July has been quite a month for space lovers. From the launch of the Endeavour space shuttle and the anniversary of the first moon landing to the death of Walter Cronkite, the "Most Trusted Man in America" and a self-professed student of space exploration, we have seen our fair share of ups and downs this month.
And as the economy and health care continue to weigh heavily on our minds, it's space that has slowly made its way back to dinner tables across the United States.
Back in the 1960s, when Walter Cronkite was on the air almost every night, giving Americans updates on the NASA space program, people both young and old huddled around their televisions waiting to hear when (or if) we would get to the moon. Americans cared about space. They were interested. And they wanted to know as much as possible about it.
But after the moon landing in 1969, interest in NASA's space exploration started to fade. In recent years, some have spent more time calling on the federal government to shutter NASA rather than fund it. In 1969, such a suggestion seemed unfathomable.
And yet, just as those of us who still support space exploits thought it would only get worse, July brought on what I believe is the most discussion and enthusiasm about space that we've seen in a long time. And maybe (just maybe), it might return to its former place of glory.
Let's recap how it happened.
The early days of July
July started out on a high note. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched back in June, snapped its first pictures of the lunar landscape. Its primary mission is to analyze lunar terrain to find a suitable landing spot for future manned missions to the moon. It will also be used to create a detailed lunar atlas.
The delayed launch
As July wore on, the Endeavour space shuttle sat on the launch pad. NASA's first five attempts to launch the shuttle were foiled by bad weather. But on the sixth try, the shuttle, now a month behind schedule due to a hydrogen leak and the weather, finally launched.
After inspecting the launch, NASA found that the shuttle had experienced some foam loss. It eventually found that the damage to the shuttle wasn't significant, and there shouldn't be any issues when Endeavour attempts to re-enter Earth's atmosphere Friday.
While in space, Endeavour's every move was captured by thousands of media outlets around the world. A Japanese science platform was attached to the ISS. Spare parts from the shuttle were added to the space station. Astronauts even replaced solar-array batteries. Needless to say, it was a busy mission. And the world was watching.
The 40th anniversary
But perhaps one of the most significant events of July was the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's famous first steps on the lunar surface.
Forty years ago, Apollo 11 launched from Earth on a mission to land on the moon. After a few missteps and embarrassments in the early 1960s, NASA finally made some progress toward fulfilling President Kennedy's desire to get a man to the moon by the end of the decade. By July 1969, the United States was ready, and the world was watching to see if it was possible.
After almost five days of traveling to the moon, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped down on the lunar surface as millions watched. It was a spectacular event that is still remembered fondly by those who experienced it.
This year, NASA held several commemorative events. Numerous television shows were produced to remember the events. For the first time in a while, the United States was once again engaged in the lunar landing. And they watched Walter Cronkite, speechless, smiling, as Armstrong took his first steps.
Walter Cronkite died on July 17. Although he's remembered for his trustworthiness, he's also remembered as the country's steward during the 1960s, at the same time that NASA's space program got off the ground.
Every night, millions of Americans sat at the dinner table, listening to Cronkite's chronicling of space exploration and goals for the future. They watched as he followed each launch. And they smiled with him as Armstrong etched his name in history.
Until his death, Cronkite was a strong proponent of space exploration. He believed in it. He thought it was the next frontier.
But July's space month doesn't end there. Just last week, astronomers studied an asteroid impact zone on Jupiter. It was originally discovered by an amateur astronomer who was doing some star gazing. The impact zone was eventually captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The return of space?
July has been a busy month for space lovers. It has seen its share of good and bad, but in the end, it has brought space back into the public discourse. People are more interested. There are more news stories on space exploration. And in some way, I believe that people are getting more excited about the possibilities space offers.
Space really is the next frontier. And although we haven't seen missions on the same scale as the moon landing in quite some time, the possibilities are endless. Maybe all the events we've experienced this month will help us remember that.
Correction, 12:50 p.m. PDT: This story initially misstated the day of the week that the Endeavour is expected to return to Earth.