By Eric Leventhal
The date was May 25, 1961. Just ten days earlier, German biochemist J. Heinrich Matthaei first identified the genetic code triplet. (Thanks to him, I can still remember the names of all the nucleobases I had to memorize in high school.) In February, the Beatles played their first show at Liverpool's Cavern Club. (They apparently didn't close with "Freebird.") Neither the New York Mets nor the Super Bowl were yet in existence when newly elected President John F. Kennedy stood in front of a joint session of Congress and declared, sternly and sincerely, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
In 1969, the Beatles played their last concert (they closed with "The Cops Are on the Roof, We Should Probably Stop Playing Now"), Joe Namath became a Super Bowl hero, the Miracle Mets won the World Series, and in December, the United States instituted its first military draft since World War II. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas five and a half years earlier (yet another reason to hate the Cowboys) when, on July 20, his 1961 declaration was fulfilled as millions of people around the world watched mankind's "giant leap."
Some cynics say America is heading for a Depression. They say no amount of stimulus money, infrastructure investment or alternative-energy research can prevent this certainty of failure. More generally, there are always those who say "it," whatever it may be at that particular moment, cannot be done. Maybe they're right. But still: Forty years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon. By comparison, with the possible exception of another Jets Super Bowl victory, is anything truly impossible anymore?
For more on how they did it, and what it all means, check out The New York Times's excellent Tuesday science section devoted to the lunar landing.