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One Giant Leap for Mankind

July 21st, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The moon landing of July 1969 somehow has always seemed fresh, in my mind. Even when we view it in black and white. (It was 1969, after all.)

That sense of recall seems a blessing for the aged of the world, given that no one under the age of 55 can hope to recall much of anything, as we saw it then.

It was a huge story, of course. Two men walking on another piece of our solar system, our galaxy.

I was 15 at the time, and I was sitting in the den with my parents, waiting and watching for the time when Neil Armstrong, and then Buzz Aldrin, descended the ladder from the lunar module, which had successfully touched down on our white and seemingly chalky satellite.

One of the first things that comes to mind, when reflecting back on July 20, 1969?

How long it seemed to take to get our guys on the moon!

We may deny it now, but it seemed forever to get up there. It really did. Given that President John F. Kennedy, in May of 1961, had told Congress “the United States … should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Then came most of a decade of building up to the Big Event, with the Mercury program, which carried single astronauts, followed by the two-man Gemini series and culminating with the three-man Apollo program, with Apollo 11 designated as the craft that would land on the moon.

Between Kennedy’s commitment and Neil Armstrong clambering down a ladder to the moon’s surface … that was more than eight years, which is a long time for a kid.

The space program was something of a decade-long commitment; you could hardly avoid it, even if you tried.

Every time a new mission was set to go, all three TV networks devoted enormous amounts of time waiting for the latest spacecraft to get into the air … and then out of it … and into space, with each launch a little more advanced than the one before.

But it seemed as if just about every takeoff was delayed by weather or whatever else for a few hours, or a few days, and in retrospect I can only imagine how much time-filling verbiage went out over the airways ahead of those delayed space shots.

Nothing happened quickly. We never rolled out of bed — launches tended to take place in mid-morning Eastern time, in Florida, which meant those of us in the Pacific time zone had to be up in the dark to see the two minutes of the eventual launch — and of so often we ended up waiting for hours. Or were already in school by the time the launch was made.

The countdown from 10 was always fun but more than once in a while a hold would be put on the countdown because something didn’t look quite right to the engineers.

Even the Big Event, Apollo 11, tested our patience. The enhanced photos seen here and the semi-live TV from the lunar surface … well that was quite a luxury, given that just about all of the previous stuff was via radio. Sound only, with maybe some mock-ups of the interior of a space capsule for TV guys to point at as they babbled on.

So, I guess I’m throwing some shade on the whole thing, but that was just the un-spooling of a process, and most kids and some adults had trouble focusing their attention on the whole of it.

Fifty years later, absolutely, we are proud of it, proud to have been Americans who lived through the run-up to the grand achievement.

And, yes, I can assure you that once Armstrong and Aldrin set down on the surface of the moon, that Sunday night so long ago, we hardly moved.

I do remember being vaguely disappointed by Armstrong’s first words. “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” I’m not sure what I expected, but I wanted something a little saltier, maybe. “Take that, Soviets!” They didn’t call it the “space race” for nothing.

(And the Russians might well have beaten us there if they could get their big rocket to take off without blowing up.)

All complaints aside, I was another proud American. We said we would go to the moon and bring back our astronauts alive. We did it. Six times. Nobody has done it since.

That makes it worthy of reflection 50 years after.


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