50th Anniversary Moon Landing

Many of you were not even alive 50 years ago when Americans (and the rest of the world) clustered around their television sets (mostly still black and white) and watched with breathless awe as Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin climbed down the ladder of the Lunar Module. Today this seems almost commonplace, but at the time, no one knew what would happen. It was the first time any human being had set foot on any celestial body besides Earth, and Neil Armstrong’s boot touching the powdery surface of the Moon was one of many historic firsts of that mission.

Successful landing on the Moon was an accomplishment that brought pride to people everywhere as a monumental human achievement.

As the astronauts would later reveal, despite their apparent sangfroid at the time, at many junctures it almost didn’t happen. If we stop to think about the logistics involved in any space exploration—but particularly this mission, with its high degree of human risk—it pretty much boggles the mind. How could so many people invent and coordinate so many complex tasks in the correct order, in the correct way, at the correct time, in such a narrow window of potential success? How did they do it with computers less complex than the simplest calculator for navigation and guidance? I like that human beings accomplished all this against nearly insurmountable odds. It gives one hope.

The Medical School also has a monumental mission. We have thousands of moving human parts. Millions of complex tasks daily. A significant component of human risk, both to physical and mental wellbeing. We are the scientists developing the new medical materials and technologies needed for the task. We are the intricate and yet huge machinery of the space ship. We are the astronauts working with a multitude of unknowns to achieve the impossible in human health. We are mission control, trying to make the right decisions, provide the right support, and ensure that everything goes well for our patients and ourselves. We are the support crew ensuring that the equipment works correctly and is in the right spot at the right time. And sometimes it seems like we are accomplishing this mission in spite of having powerful computers (although we are working hard to improve that).

The thousands of people who made the trip to the Moon possible were focused on the end goal. Undoubtedly there were politics, personal aspirations, egos, and myriad difficulties to surmount, but they had a very clear objective that they all shared and understood. If they invented a guidance system or designed a spacesuit or packaged food to be eaten in zero gravity—they knew that it was in support of getting the astronauts safely to the Moon and back.

I hope you will watch the linked video. There is something profoundly moving about the care and courtesy of the first astronaut guiding the second into the unknown. Through the complete reliability and attentiveness of one and the trust of the other, we see interconnectedness and interdependence at its best.

It is the same with us. Whether we are training one of the physicians or scientists of the future, scheduling a meeting, performing an experiment, emptying a wastebasket, treating a patient, paying an invoice, writing web content, or any one of the other tasks we all perform each day, we do it with one goal in mind, to impact medicine. None of us can do it alone. But if we are kind to one another and perform our jobs with the excellence we are capable of, we will be able to make a difference in this world.