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Apollo Day: July 20, 1969

Forty years ago the United States did something amazing: it guided humanity into space. On the night of July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people stopped what they were doing to witness something new: a human stepping foot on another world.

We paused to marvel. And we changed. The technical demands of space exploration spurred computer research, leading directly to the microcomputer revolution. And now, four decades later, microcomputers have changed the world, yet humanity is still confined to that single, fragile world.

Pause again to remember that amazing night, captured so well in the poem reprinted below.

After contemplating this poem, please try out, too, an extraordinary QuickTime version (5.2 MB) of the poem, created a decade ago to honor the 30th anniversary.

High Flight

by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., wrote this poem after a flight in a Spitfire fighter plane over Britain. An American serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the poem was included in a letter sent to his mother in the United States. Magee was killed several months later when his beloved Spitfire collided with an Oxford patrol plane in a cloud December 11, 1941. He was 19.