A Moment Worth Celebrating
“The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us, because if we are not able to land at least we are able to follow.”
~ Walter Cronkite ~
July 20, 1969
CBS Moon Landing Coverage
When Kate’s grandmother, Tessie, passed away, Kate inherited several things, including what is now our dining room table, a place where we have shared meals worth remembering with each other, and countless friends and family. She also became the custodian of a collection of ephemera, which had mattered to Tessie; mostly newspapers from when President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy were assassinated, but also various stories and headlines that followed man’s progress as he conquered space.
In those papers, I found two four cent stamps, issued in 1962, for Project Mercury, the predecessor to the Apollo Program. I framed and displayed those stamps, not because I thought them monetarily valuable, but more because Tessie had thought them important enough to hold on to for over thirty years; and because they were about space exploration.
I was born in the space age; in one of the last years of the baby boom generation. I was not born into a world that felt limited; yes, in no small way because of my parent’s faith that they so freely shared with me, but also because it seemed like the only thing that stood in the way of making imagination a reality was effort.
During my childhood I did not need to read science-fiction to envision what the surface of the moon might look like, I had only to turn on the television; thanks to the 400,000 people throughout the United States, including the brave and brilliant individuals at NASA who worked tirelessly to land man on the moon.
Over my lifetime I have not only followed the wonders of our explorations, like the fifty year anniversary of that mission, which began on July 16, 1969, when intrepid souls, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, departed Earth’s gravitational pull and headed toward our moon, with the clear goal of landing the Lunar Module on its surface, and allowing man to walk on the moon; but also the sorrows, like the explosion of Challenger in January of 1986, which like so many others I watched live, on television, and the utter disbelief that fell over us all, when we once again learned of the catastrophic explosion of the Columbia, on February 1, 2003.
This month, on July 20th, we celebrate fifty years since, the Apollo 11 mission, succeeded and eighty percent of the people in the world were able to watch it, so many of us as it happened!
I have been enjoying the documentaries being broadcast to commemorate that moment, and I am still awed by these incredibly brave souls that decided to walk on the moon, a surface no man had previously stepped on; I have also been thinking about the amazingly brilliant minds that not only conceived the notion of space travel, but actually figured out how to make it happen.
I remember watching the television intently whenever man ventured into outer space; but the moon landing was different. It felt like the whole world stopped to watch this moment; and of course when they returned to earth there were deep sighs of relief and prayers of thanks. I was certainly too young to understand the challenges and obstacles which had to be overcome to achieve this entirely lofty goal, if you will; but I knew that a feat like none other had been accomplished.
(I do remember wondering what God thought about it all, and how far man would get to go. Apparently, I was not the only one thinking about God during that historic moment, Buzz Aldrin took the elements for Communion with him to the moon, where he partook of the sacrament. As a fellow Ohioan, I should also add that Neil Armstrong took pieces of the Wright Brothers plane, the Wright Flyer, with him to the moon.)
Even now, I find it impossible to read or watch anything about the space program, whether actual footage or Hollywood’s interpretations, without feeling an amazing sense of wonder and pride. As the activities have ramped up, to mark this anniversary, I have been wondering if we will ever have a moment like this again, as a people.
Yes, I know there were people then, as there are now, who did not think the investment in NASA was wise, and there are still all those conspiracist who do not believe we landed on the moon, but despite that group, the space program managed to inspire and awe humanity; creating at least for moments, unity of thought and purpose. Will we ever again stand around our screen of choice and gasp with joy as mankind accomplishes a feat once unimaginable, or even unite in grief for a universal heartache?
My neighbor, Phil, was in his 80’s when he told me that he was on holiday, in Japan, when Americans first walked on the moon. He said that on that day, everywhere he went, people would stop him, bow, and congratulate him on the moon landing. Phil had an interesting perspective on everything, including this experience, saying he did not understand the Japanese reaction, as he had nothing to do with NASA’s success. Perhaps, but it was a moment worth marking, and I wonder how many people in Japan, were simply happy to see an American, in person, that they could congratulate, thereby feeling a bit more connected to the men on the moon and to each other.
I also cannot let this moment pass without mentioning my Aunt Helen, who Kate and I have been talking about quite a bit, as we watch the programing about the space race.
My Aunt Helen, whose candle sticks sit on Tessie’s table, worked as a secretary for Rockwell, in Columbus, Ohio. She supported some of those brilliant engineers who worked to make travel in space possible and safe; and she did it with such pride, in the best possible sense of that word. Aunt Helen knew she was one of those 400,000 people who were responsible for making the dream of space exploration a reality; and even many years after she had retired and man had walked on the moon, she still followed the aerospace industry and spoke of those glory days with honor.
As we step back to celebrate this anniversary, I hope we will also stop to reflect on what we, as a people, can accomplish when we work together. Could any other cold war survivors ever have imagined that the United States and the Soviet Union would link Apollo and Soyuz capsules, in July of 1975? Or that this rocky relationship between the United States and now Russia would continue in space today, with plans to build a station on the moon?
This is a moment to celebrate, but let it not be our last! That is all for now.
On July 23, the last night before splashdown, the three astronauts made a television broadcast in which Collins commented:
“… The Saturn V rocket which put us in orbit is an incredibly complicated piece of machinery, every piece of which worked flawlessly … We have always had confidence that this equipment will work properly. All this is possible only through the blood, sweat, and tears of a number of people … All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all of those, I would like to say, Thank you very much.”
~ Michael Collins ~
“This has been far more than three men on a mission to the Moon; more, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team; more, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown … Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind. ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him?’”
~ Buzz Aldrin ~
“The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort; next with the American people, who have, through their will, indicated their desire; next with four administrations and their Congresses, for implementing that will; and then, with the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU, the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface. We would like to give special thanks to all those Americans who built the spacecraft; who did the construction, design, the tests, and put their hearts and all their abilities into those craft. To those people tonight, we give a special thank you, and to all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.”
~ Neil Armstrong ~