The Dark Side of the Moon

On December 21st, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted off from what’s now known as Cape Canaveral with three men aboard. Their mission was to enter the moon’s orbit, slingshot around the dark side, and return home safely. A manned flight around the moon had never been done before. Making it even more risky, it was an idea conceived just four short months before.

In order to accomplish their goal, NASA needed the men of Apollo 8 to fly within 69 miles of the surface of the moon, a feat that Robert Kurson, in his book, Rocket Men, describes as requiring

“…unimaginable precision, equivalent in scale to throwing a dart at a peach from a distance of 28 feet—and grazing the very top of the fuzz without touching the fruit’s skin. If that weren’t daunting enough, the Moon would be barreling through space at nearly 2,300 miles per hour. Toss a peach in the air at 28 feet and now hit the top of the fuzz with a dart. That’s what these trajectory experts were proposing to do.”

Incredibly, the trip was a success. America beat the Russians to the moon and the astronauts returned home safely. NASA had pulled off what seemed, just a few months prior, an unimaginable feat, and done so by reaching the dark side of the moon at the very second they predicted.

I was reminded of the story of Apollo 8 as the kids and I watched the NASA/SpaceX Crew Dragon launch this past weekend. I’ll admit it is something we turned on last minute, but by the time the countdown reached 10 seconds I was fascinated. (Click here to see the countdown and launch.) I had chills as the spacecraft lifted off. Jack and Gwen were enthralled. It provided a small glimpse into the kind of pride, wonder, and amazement America must have felt when Apollo 8 returned home.

While the mission of SpaceX Crew Dragon is not in-and-of-itself newsworthy like that of Apollo 8, here’s what is important: this is the first time in a decade that America has launched spacemen into outer space and it was done in a space craft built entirely by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Oh, and the Falcon 9 rocket that separated from the rest of the spacecraft some 50 miles above the earth landed like this. (Note: this is not footage from Saturday which hasn’t been released yet. This is footage from a successful landing in 2016.)

Which brings me to my two points.

First, it’s as important now as ever to remember what you are buying into as an investor. You aren’t buying into Republicans or Democrats, the House or the Senate. You aren’t investing in this fall’s election. You are buying into the kind of creativity and genius people like Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX have in spades. The business didn’t exist 20 years ago and now they are widely considered the future of space travel.

Second, the country seems as fractured now as it was the year Apollo 8 launched. It’s an extreme understatement to say that race relations back then were frayed. Case in point, the 1968 Presidential election began with three people: the incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, who took over after JFK was assassinated, the Republican Richard Nixon, and a third-party candidate, George Wallace, a proud segregationist. What’s more, the country was still reeling from the assassination of JFK when the Civil Rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights advocate Robert F. Kennedy were murdered in April and June, respectively. The murder of MLK, Jr. triggered widespread rioting and violence, maybe similar to what’s taken place over the last week-and-a-half in many cities around the US.

I’ll be honest that I don’t feel equipped to speak on what’s taking place across the country as the black community is hurting, cities are under curfew, and we seem to be as divided as we’ve ever been. What I will say is that my heart breaks for the black community who has been and continues to be treated as less than by society.

George W. Bush released a statement earlier this week regarding the state of our union, a portion of which I’ll share:

“Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions. We know that lasting justice will only come by peaceful means. Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress. But we also know that lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all.”

The events of the past week-and-a-half provide me with both solace and discomfort.

Solace because the collective ingenuity of our nation is unparalleled. Just as we beat Russia to the moon in 1968, we continue to lead the way economically and technologically. I believe we will emerge from this current economic challenge stronger than before.

Discomfort because we are still divided like we were 50 years ago and we’ve failed to confront the biases inherent in our institutions. It seems as if we’ve reached a tipping point and that maybe, just maybe, we will start to see real change that leads to real equality.

The moment Apollo 8 went behind the moon was the most dangerous part of their mission. They couldn’t communicate with home, they couldn’t see a way home, and if they didn’t emerge at the right time they might be lost to space forever. That’s a bit like where we are now. This year we’ve been battered by COVID-19 (and the resulting isolation), political discord, and racial unrest. It’s been a really hard five months. But we will pull through it, like we always have. Just as Apollo 8 caught its first glimpse of Earth and the way home, we will find our way, too.

My hope is that way points us towards peace and real, lasting equality.

I’ll close with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., which Sam shared with me the other day: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”



Ryan Smith
[email protected]

Born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, I moved to Raleigh in 2011 to marry my wife, Emily. We have two kids, Jack and Gwen, a golden retriever named Olly, and are members of Church of the Apostles. I have been a Financial Advisor since 2005 and earned a Master’s of Science in Financial Planning from Bentley University in 2007. I became a CFP® professional in 2009, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® in 2015, and a Certified Tax Specialist™ in 2023.