[Editor’s Note: The following is written by Bill Cloutier of the John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford. The observatory, located behind New Milford High School on Route 7 South, is run by volunteers.]

The observatory is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with two events in the coming days.

On July 13, the observatory will have a special presenter for our monthly Second Saturday Stars program.

Peter Gagne, who worked at the Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, NY.,. during the Apollo program, will be the guest speaker.

Grumman had the contract to build the Lunar Lander, a truly unique spacecraft solely designed to operate in the vacuum of space.

On July 20, the anniversary of the moon landing, the observatory will be open from noon to 3 p.m.

Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the Apollo 11 mission, gain an appreciation of the special machines and equipment that it took to send astronauts to the moon and return them safely home, view meteorites from the moon, and take a walk around “Tranquility Base.”

The Apollo program was mankind’s greatest technological achievement.

There were risks and setbacks over the eight years that would pass before we were able to take that first step on the moon, including the loss of life.

Critics of the program are quick to point to its “astronomical” cost, as if footprints on the lunar surface were all there was to show for such a large outlay.

They couldn’t be more wrong. The Apollo program was an investment, an investment in tens of thousands of American companies, both large and small, in manufacturing and service providers, in research firms, and in our nation’s universities.

The challenge was so great that it required new technologies to be developed, launched innovations in manufacturing, pioneered the use of novel and exotic materials, and ignited a revolution in computers and computer science.

The lessons learned and skills acquired during the Apollo program were openly shared with industry, resulting in a boon to the economy and a competitive advantage in the global marketplace that continues today.

The rock and soil returned to Earth by the Apollo astronauts changed our understanding of how the moon formed and opened a window into the early days of our solar system, more than four billion years ago, when gas giants, such as Jupiter, migrated inward towards the Sun, before retreating, disrupting the planetary disk.

The moon holds the secrets to the earth’s past, and through the moon we became more conscious of the earth, and its uniqueness in the solar system as a cradle of life.

By one account, for every dollar invested by the government in NASA, the American economy and other countries’ economies have seen $7 to $14 in new revenue, all from spinoffs and licensing arrangements.

NASA inspires our youth, with their mind-boggling missions to explore distant worlds, to pursue their interests in science, technology, math, and engineering.

NASA’s small slice of the federal budget is truly an investment in our future - a future that will need our best and brightest minds to take on seemingly insurmountable challenges.