Fifty years ago Saturday, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first people to land on the moon. Shortly afterward, Armstrong took his iconic first steps on alien soil.

So much about Apollo 11 has been integrated into our culture and collective memory that the sheer breadth and audacity of that achievement can be lost today. But think of it for a moment. Humans here in the United States set an astonishing goal — not only to send a satellite to our satellite but to send men there. And we wouldn’t just send the men to orbit that moon. They would also land and explore.

Looking through the lens of these 50 years, the conditions that led to the moon mission seem nearly impossible today. There was investment across the government and cooperation to make sure NASA had the needed resources. Americans across the board thrilled to the accomplishment.

What’s more, the landing seems born of an impossible sense of optimism. Of course the United States would claim the moon. Of course our brave boys would set foot there. That was par for the course. In a few short years, we would head to Mars, and then the solar system.

It was inevitable. So said the news media, so said science fiction, so thought the public.

As the decades passed, as turmoil and gridlock gradually grew and engulfed our domestic politics, the government slowed. NASA took on projects that seemed less glamorous, less demanding. Probes headed to Mars, but no men.

And slowly but surely, America lost its optimism. As warnings of climate change spread, it seems increasingly clear that our primary task will not be heading outside of our planet, but instead preserving it for future generations.

Yet we still dream.

The Trump administration has prioritized returning to space. Inventors and visionaries, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, have invested in their own private space companies. So many eyes still turn to the dots of light in the night sky, and so many of us still wonder about breaking free of this atmosphere.

Making these 50 years, then, inspires a complicated mixture of nostalgia, regret and hope. We may have left the moon, but surely we can someday return. Our horizons may be have lowered, but someday they can still span galaxies.

Mankind has made the giant leap, yes, but there is so much ground still left to cover.