The need for brand new technology, hostile foreign actors, lives and economies hanging in the balance, and very little time to reach liftoff. These challenges were faced by the men and women who developed the Apollo Program in the 1960s, and they are challenges faced by those who developed the COVID-19 vaccines last year. The bid to turn relatively untested technology into the a life-saving solution to a global pandemic in just months is truly the moonshot of our age. As the US developed their first bid for space, they faced the pressure of growing Soviet competition, and the threats that Soviet success implied. So we made the commitment to get it done, despite the risk of failure. Failure was not an option. The technology used for the moonshot wouldn’t impress the average smartphone owner today. The computer systems were primitive. When the first mission reached their chosen moon landing location, they found it full of large boulders. So, with about 60 seconds of fuel, Commander Armstrong took manual controls and searched for a better place to set down. Fast forward to March of last year. The world confronted an unknown respiratory virus, with a range of panicked observations of its virulence. Scientists and officials around the world looked for more information, and the secretive Chinese government had little to offer. The pressure was on. The world needed a vaccine, and failure was not an option. But as with the moon project, inventiveness had been at work. Already companies had been working on messenger RNA (mRNA) that can create a specified protein. The new, largely untested process was theoretically perfect for, essentially, teaching the body to create its own vaccines. As with the space program, leadership swept away the normal impediments to getting things done. Our commitment was to success. Neither of these two leaps forward—either a complex vaccine or spaceshot—had ever been done in such an ambitious timeframe. Since COVID vaccines were produced and approved in record time, the US has become the world leader, both in fighting the pandemic and in an astonishing new technology with the opportunity to change healthcare by leaps and bounds. Our communities are rapidly regaining the vibrant, inventive, entrepreneurial spirits prevalent before the pandemic. It’s the moonshot attitude of the past year that got us this far. I think in all this we taught ourselves a lesson—again.
Jim Hunting, President & CEO