Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering Apollo 11



The Summer of 1969 has been chronicled in song in print. As far as significant news stories, there have been few three month periods to rival it. The Beatles were still Number #1 on the record charts, but a new supergroup called Crosby, Stills, and Nash emerged that year to rival them. Hurricane Camille smashed into the Gulf Coast, with devastating winds and rains that were a precursor to Katrina 36 years later.

Senator Ted Kennedy drove off of a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, killing young female passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, forever derailing Kennedy's presidential hopes. In California, a cult led by madman Charles Manson murdered actress Sharon Tate and her friends in the home Tate shared with husband Roman Polansky, and then they killed an older couple in the area, Leno LaBianca and wife Rosemary. August brought "three days of fun and music" and 400,000 people to the village of Bethel, New York, for the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. And the war in Viet Nam dragged on.

But on July 20th, perhaps the greatest story of the 20th century unfolded before our very eyes- man conquered the confines of earth, and took his first steps on the moon.

I wish I could offer some kind of profound insight about the Apollo 11 landing, something unique and unheard. But so many other have done so already. And to be candid, I really didn't appreciate the moment 40 years ago as probably should have. I was a typical teenager at the time, and yes, the first man on the moon was a big story....but like most teenagers I was preoccupied with teenage things. So kids, don't tell me I "don't understand, because I was your age once my self...and I could be just as dumb (some of the time).

Anyway...I grew up with the space program and space exploration, from the Soviet launch of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth a few years later, followed by the Americans playing catchup, with Alan Shepperd and Gus Grissom's sub-orbital flights, followed by John Glenn's becoming the first Mercury astronaut to orbit the earth. More Mercury launches, followed by the Gemini project, and then Apollo. It happened in rapid succession, and despite some problems, and loss of Grissom and two others in a fire during simulation, I always had the feeling that it was a foregone conclusion; we American's would have a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's. A generation before we set out to harness the power of the atom, we fought two wars on three continents and won, we had the highest standard of living in the world, and we were the cultural and intellectual center of the known universe. Yes, the country did seem to becoming unhinged in the late 1960's. But we were Americans; and landing on the moon was almost the logical extension of 19th century Manifest Destiny. We were Americans. We set out to do it. And we would.

And we did. I wasn't surprised....I was elated that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were successful, and were able to accomplish their mission, and along with Michael Collins were able to return to the earth safely. But deep in my bones I felt they would do it and be successful. Let the speechlessness belong to my Dad's generation- and to Mr. Cronkite.

It was a simpler time in many ways, but it was harsh as well. Young people today just want to hear about how great the music was of the 1960's was, and ask if all the drugs were really that good. The answer is "yes" and "yes".....but if you were a young man in that era there was the constant fear of going to your mailbox, and finding out that you were being inducted into the United States Army in two weeks.

To this day, I hate the sight of mailboxes.

I saw Buzz Aldrin on CNN today...he still looks great, a little grayer but healthy. and later I saw a clip that included Aldrin with Armstrong and Collins. It is remarkable that all three are still with us after 40 years.

And God bless, and thank you gentlemen.

But sadly, it would have been nicer if Walter Cronkite was able to be with us for one more go round. Miss you already, Uncle Walter.

1 comment:

aser said...

The honor of being the first to step foot on the Moon was originally mean for Virgil "Gus" Grissom, the Masonic martyr with strange, semiotic connections to Barackobamun. But Gus fell victim to an allegedly accidental fire aboard Apollo...
Documentary video:Gus Grissom-video

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