Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Went and Looked at the Moon Last Night

Unless you have been stuck under a rock, you probably know that Neil Armstrong died yesterday. In July 1969, I, like so many millions of others, watched as he made "One small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind." (I am using the words as he said he spoke them rather than how we heard them as I can fully appreciate how there could be a comm drop - as should anyone who has had a phone drop the occasional word.)

That summer, I was 17 years old and about to start my senior year in high school. Vietnam was still raging; Richard Nixon had been president for only a few months, and I had all my life and the world in front of me. The USSR had launched Sputnik just 12 years earlier. Newspapers were soon providing the nightly times when Sputnik and then the follow-on US satellites would be visible in the night sky so that we could go out and watch them move rapidly across the sky.

Coach Bill wrote this diary yesterday at MyFDL on how many of us learned about the space program in school:

My earliest and most vivid memories of elementary school were when we would gather together in a single classroom and watch a rocket take off with a man aboard. I grew up with the Mercury Seven Astronauts, the Gemini program and eventually the Apollo Missions that culminated on July 20 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped off a ladder onto the moon.
In 12 short years, we as humans went from the first man-made objects in space to a man on the moon. This was a celebration of humanity at least as much as a celebration of "American Exceptionalism."

As adults, we read and watched The Right Stuff. Now, it has been almost 40 years since the last Apollo mission. We have seen the Challenger and Columbia disasters and the end of the Space Shuttle program.

So where are we going? Not just as a nation but as a human race? The author Kim Stanley Robinson visited Firedoglake's Book Salon yesterday to talk with folks about his latest novel 2312. One of the things that makes me love "hard" sci-fi is the inherent optimism that we will escape at least out to our solar system if not the whole universe. Let's hope our leaders can show some of the same imagination as shown by President Kennedy when he vowed to put a man on the moon within the decade. Otherwise, we have the situation Mr Pierce describes:
For at least a time, there literally was only one other person in the history of man who knew what Armstrong knew — how that sandy soil feels when you walk on it, the exact places where the shadows fall, the precise geometry of the mountains of the moon. Today, there are only eight of them left, all of them in their 70's. What will happen when the last of them dies? It's very likely that there will not be a living human being who knows what Neil Armstrong knew. It will all be for videotape and digital libraries, for historians and, if we're very lucky, for poets, as well. But there will be nobody alive who actually knows. Not a single one of our fellow humans, anywhere on the Earth.
I went and looked at the moon last night.

And because I can:


  1. Thank you. This is one of the most defining moments in my life too. I grew up with the space program, was entering High School when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Stayed up late in CA to catch the landing on the radio, and then the walk on tv.

    The space program has driven my life long interest in science, and my first career, hands on, electronics and guidance of rockets/missiles - the Gemini series rockets. I'd stop working, look up at the missile, and was astonished two humans would sit atop of this monster and travel into space.

    Neil is an World Hero, Pioneer and Adventurer. His name will be spoken forever.

    The space program is important, and I worry where it is going, we need more Neil Armstongs to inspire our children in what is possible and to dream of the stars.

    1. Yeah, we seem to be going more to reasons why things can't be done today rather than finding ways to do them. And this is at all levels.