KOKOMO - The poet Robert Browning once wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” 

The same could be said about a nation’s reach.??The 50th anniversary of mankind’s, July 20, 1969, first steps on the moon is fast approaching. Let’s hope that our nation will not use the occasion to focus on how great an achievement it was, but rather to reflect on the many great things that we might be able to achieve in the future.??

The year 1969 was a time not terribly unlike that of today. There was massive domestic turmoil, bordering on open revolt and numerous conflicts around the world. There seemed to be nothing which could stop all Americans in their tracks and provide us a moment of inspiration, pride and absolute awe.

Since the first humanoid could tilt their head upwards, we have marveled at the existence of the faraway moon. Poets, composers and philosophers have pondered eloquently about the moon for centuries. But there on that amazing early morning in 1969, the moon ceased to be the distant mysterious celestial rock and came tantalizingly into our grasp. What seemed an impossibility at one time, was now a reality.??

Some memories of events in your life are burned into your mind forever. My parents and I sat glued to the television screen throughout the evening of July 19 and into the wee hours of July 20 to soak in one of the greatest accomplishments of man in recorded history. The drama of the lunar descent, the touchdown and Neil Armstrong’s first small steps on the surface of the moon are impossible to convey to those who did not experience it. Not many things can reduce a boy of 14 to tears, but the tears welled up in me from the pride that America put the first man on the moon. We cheered and celebrated as if we had each had a hand in mankind’s and America’s success. 

There were no talks of riots, no talk of Vietnam and no discussion of tax rates or the economy. In the wee hours of July 20, there was only pride.??The United States space program fostered more technological innovations than could ever have been conceived at the time President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to put a man on the moon.

NASA developed technologies provided advances in science, medicine, engineering and other disciplines.  From unique uses for Teflon, communication satellites, breathing apparatuses for firefighters, heart pumps, software, circuitry and alloys, NASA has pioneered a wealth of significant technologies that has made life better and increased our productivity.??Just about any person in any part of the world can put a round peg in a round hole. Every place in the world can do that cheaper than we can in the United States.

Our continued superiority as an economic powerhouse relies on our technological edge over the competition. We won’t keep that edge by following the Kardashians or by pumping out a plethora of liberal art majors/baristas in training. We will find our competitive edge maintained by engineering and technology. The space program offered us this edge in the sixties and seventies and it could do it again.??There are cynics who believe that everything worth discovering has been discovered. There are fiscal conservatives who challenge any expenditures on space exploration. There are liberals who want money given to the poor instead of blasted into outer space.

Add to the financial challenges, the significant social upheavals and political discord of today and uniting as a nation to accomplish some great feat seems quaintly impossible. Why even try???The greatest minds in the United States used to aspire to careers in science, medicine and engineering. Today, our best minds struggle to find algorithms that will fatten the wallets of Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Google and Amazon. 

Making money and becoming market dominant are wonderful goals, but what do they do for the long march of society???Why can’t Don, Nancy, Chuck and Mitch sit down over a good pizza and brainstorm a few ideas for challenges that just might unite us as a nation and achieve great things. Leave the K Street lobbyists out of the room.  Keep the political handlers away. And, for God’s sake, keep the media as far from the meeting as possible. What might we achieve from such a meeting as this?  Can we make it to Mars? Can we cure cancer, Alzheimer’s or heart disease?  Can we achieve the lowest infant mortality, the highest levels of education or the lowest poverty rates???

Who knows what we might achieve if we would make our reach exceed our grasp as a nation???

When I think of the unique American experience, I think of two words: freedom and dreams. This great nation of ours has been so successful because of the dreams of its people and the freedom to pursue those dreams. 

Just as Rev. Martin Luther King knew, any goal worth achieving starts with a dream, a shared dream. The United States needs a dream that achieves some great dream, unites us as a people and benefits mankind.  ??My personal dream is that sometime during my lifetime the United States put humans on the planet Mars. I would be willing to pay more in taxes to achieve that dream. Everyone would benefit from the technological advances of a renewed space program and a united dream just might result in a more united United States.??

As July 20 rolls around and we remember the daring deeds of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, let’s not just commemorate, but let’s dedicate ourselves to a new American dream. History tells us not only how great we were, but rather how great we can be.

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.