Monday, July 20, 2009


Wonder and amazement are in short supply these days, and the word “awesome” is sorely overused.
“These chili cheese fries are awesome, dude!”
But forty years ago today, I witnessed something truly awesome: Men set foot on the Moon, our planetary companion.

NYT Front Page 072169
Front page of the New York Times, July 21, 1969, a well-preserved copy of which resides in the Elisson Archive.

In a very different context, Arthur C. Clarke found just the right words to describe our feelings, and what that moment - the moment when Neil Armstrong hopped off that ladder and felt lunar dust under his feet - really meant:
This was the moment when history held its breath, and the present sheared asunder from the past as an iceberg splits from its parent cliffs, and goes sailing out to sea in lonely pride. All that the past ages had achieved was as nothing now...”
The words are from Clarke’s magnificent novel Childhood’s End, and are (in the novel) inspired by the arrival of aliens on Earth. But in a very real sense, our having thrown off the shackles of gravity and transported ourselves to another cosmic body is the end of our Human Childhood.

Now, if we could only stop acting like children.

I wrote about my impressions of the Apollo 11 voyage two years ago, and pretty much everything I said then is valid today.

We achieved such great things forty years ago. Why are we not back on the Moon, learning, building, and exploring, when the computational power that guided the Apollo 11 moonshot is now available in a device the size of a pack of smokes? Why do we no longer dare to dream of doing great things? Our bodies are earthbound, though they need not be... and our minds, if we allow them the liberty, can travel anywhere in the Universe.

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