Forty years ago today, as a student at Dhaka University in Bangladesh (then Pakistan), I remember staying up all night with friends in our hostel, glued to the radio for news of the moon-walking voyagers. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin had fired our collective imagination as they took tentative steps on the moon while Michael Collins kept vigil in the orbit above. That first small step had opened the door to infinite possibilities. We were exhilarated, our sense of wonder kindled as it has rarely been since.
The daring Apollo 11 astronauts, soaring on the ingenuity of thousands of engineers, made us see the earth as she was: a fragile, small, lonely planet in the vastness of space, in need of the nurturing care of every one of its inhabitants. For a brief, shining moment, we even thought that’s how it was going to be.
On Monday, October 27, 1969, we thronged main street in front of Hotel Intercontinental (now Sheraton) in Dhaka for a glimpse of our heroes. The Apollo 11 astronauts were visiting the city as part of their world-wide goodwill tour. And suddenly there they were, riding in a motorcade, all eyes focused on … Neil Armstrong. Being the first certainly had its privileges, even if the toast of the world had missed an “a” in his unforgettable sentence.
There is talk now of reviving that ’69 spirit of adventure by shooting for Mars, a more hospitable target than the moon. But even if the money is there, is there the national will? “Man must understand his universe,” said Neil Armstrong, “in order to understand his destiny.” The question for us to resolve now as a nations is: What must be our destiny?