The Eagle Doesn't Land Here Anymore

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The eagle is landing all over again, and all over the place. Thirty years to the day after Neil Armstrong took that small step onto the lunar surface, the ghosts of the space race are everywhere. Foremost among them is Armstrong himself, who has hardly spoken in public since his immortal line on July 20, 1968, but who joined fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin A. "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins Tuesday to receive the Langley Gold Medal for aviation from Al Gore. And as the space shuttle Columbia sits idle on the launchpad, its mission scrubbed until Friday because of persistent glitches, TIME space correspondent Jeffrey Kluger is reminded how far mighty NASA has fallen since JFK fired our imaginations with his promise. "Three decades later, one of the great disappointments of the moon landing was that there was no real institutional follow-up," he says. "We did it to beat the Russians, and when we had we immediately began to stand down."

As it is with almost all things Kennedy, the anniversaries of manís greatest leap have a dark side. Saturday, the day after the younger JFK went down, was the 30th anniversary of his uncle Teddyís Chappaquiddick disaster. The scandal broke one day after Apollo 11 took off and two days before it landed; the curse shared the headlines with the triumph, as it does today. One more aquatic disaster made the news today, dredged up for reexamination Ė- Gus Grissomís capsule has been pulled from the ocean. The capsule Liberty Bell 7, which had lain in water three miles deep since 1961, was brought to the surface by an underwater salvage team around 2:15 a.m. on Tuesday. "Kennedy promised to send a man to the moon and bring him back," says Kluger. "But he didnít plan for anything else after that." Maybe thatís part of the reason we're so upset about the death of his son, who represented a glimmer of hope for the future.