VERO BEACH, Fla. — I saw it lift into the dusky heavens, reaching upward in a stunning ballet of determination and grace, creeping across the sky in an orange streak, stretching toward Earth’s orbit. And somehow, the rise of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket defied the notion that there is no revelation in repetition.

Americans have been launching rockets from Florida for 73 years; the first one was on July 24, 1950, a date hardly anyone marks or even is aware of. Since Project Apollo, which catapulted men to the moon, ended 48 years ago, and the eclipse of the space shuttle, which mounted 135 missions, spaceflight has prompted a certain ennui. The days when a black-and-white television atop a tall metal tower was wheeled into classrooms for schoolchildren to witness a Project Mercury launch have become a fading memory, like the lyrics of a Shelley Fabares song.

But suddenly it is passe to say that spaceflight is passe.

The past few weeks have proved that. The astronauts who will return to lunar orbit on Artemis II were identified to much fanfare and much public interest. A Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer satellite, known as Juice, took off from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, on a mission that will take it through 25 flybys of Jupiter’s Callisto, Europa and Ganymede moons — “one of the most exciting missions we have ever flown in the solar system,” in the characterization of Josef Aschbacher, the head of the European Space Agency, and “by far the most complex.”

And there is more. The Starship rocket lifted off the pad in southern Texas, cleared the launchpad and flew for four minutes before collapsing into a spectacular fireball — and yet SpaceX declared the mission a great success. Mission personnel from a private Japanese company may have lost contact with the ispace lunar lander, but the Hakuto-R Mission 1 vehicle is presumed to have crashed in the Atlas crater on the near side of the moon — like the Starship, an achievement amid disappointment.

The $97 million SpaceX rocket that slipped the surly bounds of Earth Sunday night was carrying satellites designed to improve internet service in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, with another satellite designed to provide high-speed internet to remote areas in Alaska. Neither their form nor function was remotely conceivable when the Apollo 8 astronauts circled the moon at Christmastime in 1968, sending unforgettable pictures of their home planet and reading from the Book of Genesis.

That was 55 years ago, and yet the parallels between 1968 and 2023 are unmistakable: social tensions. Cultural upheaval. Political divisions. A sense of despair. And yet when Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman began reading the verses of the Bible, there was a glimmer of hope on the old planet.

“We could have a moment like that in a year or so from now when the Artemis astronauts return to moon orbit,” said Jennifer Levasseur, curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “There is something about the state of the world today that seems similar to 1968. It makes me think that this is just the right time for something like this. We are building to a pretty big moment.”

Jeremy Hansen, the Canadian astronaut who will travel aboard the first manned Artemis mission, believes so. “How do we actually get 8 billion people to row in the same direction and work on [our] problems?” he asked when the Artemis astronauts submitted to a Canadian Press interview. “Because these are global problems. We can do great things together. We can do better as a human race. And here’s one small example.”

The editorialists at Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper picked up the theme. “Ours is a world and a moment that sorely needs a reason to look up in astonished unison,” they wrote. “We don’t get many shared experiences anymore. Our histories, our entertainment, our windows on the world — even the facts of our basic reality — are fragmented into choose-your-own-adventure shards.”

Col. Hansen is the lineal descendant of Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, the way the three American Artemis astronauts are the descendants of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. “The Apollo lunar missions drove innovation in ways never imagined, but they brought us more,” Garneau told me. “They left us proud and even awed by what we accomplished. They gave us confidence. They made us realize we could achieve the extraordinarily difficult. They brought us together and inspired humanity. They moved us forward. We need to build on that.”

Everyone who has been into space feels that way. Jay Apt, who flew on four space shuttle missions, one as commander, believes space travel is an antidote to earthbound lassitude and public pessimism.

“Optimism is essential to provide the energy people need to do almost anything outside of their daily routine, whether it be founding a small business, discovering the secrets of electricity or having children,” he said. “Exploration in pretty much any era is inherently optimistic and draws the best from optimistic people, which is why I personally get a thrill seeing the images from space telescopes, Earth views from the space station, and can’t wait for the photos and videos from the crews that will circle and land on the moon in the decades to come.”

He is not alone. Levasseur, the museum curator, sees a definite change in the way people mingle amid the space capsules on the display floor. “I see a connection that young people have with the space program I haven’t seen before,” she said. “It’s palpable.”

Americans haven’t always felt that way. Dwight Eisenhower, who was no romantic, was skeptical of mounting a space effort even after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite, in 1957. “I’d like to know what’s on the other side of the moon,” he said, “but I won’t pay to find out this year.” When his successor, John F. Kennedy, launched the American effort to reach the moon, Eisenhower said, “Anybody who would spend $40 billion in a race to the moon for national prestige is nuts.”

Nuts we were, and nuts we are.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy,” Kennedy said in his challenge to NASA, “but because they are hard.” It still is hard, but away we go.

— David M. Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.