Friday, July 20, 2007


Did anybody notice that today is the 38th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing?

Yes, was 38 years ago this very day that Neil Armstrong stepped off the Apollo 11 lander’s ladder onto the dust of the lunar surface...and into the history books. It was “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for Mankind,” indeed.

I was sitting on the floor of Uncle Phil’s bedroom along with my cousins Diane and Andy. We gazed in rapt attention at the screen of the little black-and-white television, knowing that we were seeing a Truly Significant Event: Mankind setting his dinky mammalian feet on the surface of another celestial body, Earth’s natural satellite, almost a quarter-million miles away.

I can’t remember whether or not I was stoned at the time.

What was not general knowledge back then was that the landing was a very near thing, with fuel supplies just - just! - sufficient to the job. Armstong had to pilot the lander so as to avoid truck-sized boulders and suchlike obstacles

Only five more times would humans journey successfully to the Moon. With each subsequent moon shot, the photographs would improve and the sense of drama would decrease despite the introduction of New Technology. (Lookee - a moon rover!) The sole exception was the abortive Apollo 13, when a malfunction early in the mission nearly cost the astronauts their lives. Engineering ingenuity and problem-solving ability saved the day, but there was drama aplenty then...

...and now? Nobody seems to give a shit. That adventure was over a generation ago.

But last November I stood there in the National Air and Space Museum, looking at the Apollo 11 capsule that made that historic journey in 1969. I examined moon rocks, chunks of stone that, a mere forty years before, has been sitting peacefully in the Sea of Tranquility minding their own business before being so rudely scooped up and hauled off to a strange world. Now they were inches from my face.

Jeez, people - if that doesn’t awaken your sense of wonder at the natural world and pride in Mankind’s accomplishments, what ever will?

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