Becoming the "World's Premier Gateway to Space" does not happen overnight. It takes decades of dedication by men and women around the United States. From July 19 to July 22, 2019, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan visited the men and women at the 45th Space Wing and attended the 50th anniversary event of NASA's historic Apollo 11.
Since former President John F. Kennedy's revered "moon speech," the race to establish dominance in space has been apparent. When the U.S. first put man on the moon July 20, 1969, the world held its breath.
Now, 50 years later, Donovan – along with Vice President of the United States Mike Pence, NASA employees and thousands watching across the world – looked back on this historic moment at the Apollo 11 anniversary event at the Kennedy Space Center.
"I was 10 years old, and my mom let me stay up late to watch the landing on television," Donovan said, recalling the moment he watched the first man walk on the moon. "I remember the previous Christmas, I received and built the Apollo Saturn V model moon rocket. The moon landing captured the imagination of everyone, young and old. It was really an amazing time. It's hard to believe that was 50 years ago."
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk.
Visiting the "World's Premier Gateway to Space" reminded Donovan of how he felt during that time, as he met airmen — both at Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station — who contribute to the leaps and bounds the Air Force makes each day with its space capabilities.
The airmen of the 45th Space Wing are focused on 100% mission success while delivering assured access to space for the warfighter and the nation. Donovan met with some of these airmen at Space Launch Complex-37 on July 19, 2019, to receive a brief on United Launch Alliance's Delta IV rocket and learn how the airmen play a role in the space mission.
"The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space," Kennedy said during his 1962 speech at Rice University, Houston.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan shakes hands with 45th Operations Group Airman July 19, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker)
"These airmen and the space mission are absolutely critical," Donovan said. "Over the years, whether it be a global positioning system, communications or intelligence and reconnaissance mission; our foothold in space is critical. It's so critical that our adversaries have noticed that and gone to school on the American way of war. From that, we now look forward to the development of the United States Space Force."
The role of 45th Space Wing Airmen will change significantly because they'll be some of the first individuals moved into the new service, Donovan said. I wish I could go back and do it all over again as to be on the ground floor of such a historical event as standing up a sixth service. I think it's very exciting – the role that our airmen are going to play.
As U.S. Space Command and the U.S. Space Force come to fruition in the years to come, there is much excitement from the airmen of the 45th SW, the Air Force and the United States as a whole.
"One of the things that excites me the most for the future is the synergy that we have between the government and the space launch industry," Donovan said. "Through different space pioneers, we're able to lower the cost of space launch and pack more capabilities into a smaller package. Just imagine the possibilities that will come from that. I'm excited to see, in the years to come, our space capabilities taken to the next level for the nation."
This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.