I’m reading with great interest the stories surrounding the 50th anniversary of man’s first moon landing in 1969, and they bring back a flood of memories to someone who dreamed of distant worlds as little more than a country boy in Halifax County.

I had the opportunity to wander the aisles at Carrington Memorial Library looking for Robbie the Robot and peruse the shelves of the county bookmobile when it stopped in my driveway.

I also belonged to a number of book clubs growing up, and each summer day at the mailbox presented another opportunity to add another science fiction book to my collection, and the comic book stand at Reaves’ Drug Store was always full of science fiction comics that brought outer space to life. My summer days were filled with reading about faraway planets, aliens and spaceships while swinging in my hammock.

My brother and I were fortunate enough to own a telescope powerful enough to detect the craters on the moon, but it seemed light years away until the mission to land on the moon was realized.

Give credit where credit is due to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who issued a challenge to the nation at the beginning of his presidency in a speech before a joint session of Congress.

Although I was too young to realize it at the time, the United States was playing catch-up to the Soviet Union in terms of the space race.

Do the names Yuri Gagarin and Sputnik ring a bell?

Ironically, Richard Nixon, whom Kennedy defeated in the 1960 presidential race, was president in 1969 when Apollo 11 lifted off for the moon, the Saturn rocket shaking the very ground when it ignited.

My family and I huddled around the old black and white television set to watch men land on the moon for the first time, making my science fiction dreams come true.

I was also old enough to be aware of the divisions our nation faced in 1969, but our space program proved to be a shining beacon, a unifier.

Opinions vary 50 years later on where the next beacon, the next unifier is, because our nation again seems divided in a rancorous sort of way.

In terms of technology, our space program is still benefiting us all, in some ways more obvious than others, but it’s what we choose to do with that technology that will benefit us in the long run.

Those will be the challenges facing us all as we move forward, and I believe the space program and the pride it should give us all could help solve some of those challenges.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.