Forty Years Ago Today Humans First Walked on the Moon
It’s the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. I remember it well, my parents and I watched it live on a TV in the rec room downstairs in our Illinois home. It was late at night, I’m sure my little brother and sister were in bed. What I mostly remember is how I was hoping something interesting would happen. I was twelve years old and Star Trek and Lost in Space were already old hat, so a fuzzy black and white image of some guy climbing down a ladder wasn’t all too exciting. If there was ever a time for aliens to jump out with bottles of champagne to welcome us to the galaxy, that was it.
Alas, no aliens, moon plants, or anything. The disappointments of youth, what can I say. Now of course I know what an amazing moment it was, and even though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I appreciate it now. I mean, on July 21st 1969 the human race became a spacefaring species. Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but I think that the Moon landing is easily one of the ten most important events in human history. Certainly in the top 100. For the rest of my life I’m going to be occasionally thrilled that I got to witness this epochal moment. Only a small crowd of gawkers saw Columbus wade ashore, over five hundred million people witnessed Armstrong step onto the Moon. No one in the Soviet Union got to watch though, the authorities there were a little embarrassed that the USA beat them to the Moon.
For my part I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone that worked to make the Moon landings a reality. It’s a great thing that humans can come together and accomplish difficult and dangerous feats that don’t involve trying to think of ways to blow people up. Granted it was driven by a desire to “beat” the Russians, but in part or in whole I am sure that the people who made Apollo a reality were driven by higher motives than just to show the Russians who was best. If I ever get a chance to congratulate any of them in person, I will, but for now this post will have to do. Good work people! I almost said “good work guys” but I think it’s safe to say that there were women in the Apollo program. I hope so at least, if some reader wants to correct me, well, it happens frequently.
The picture above was one taken by the NASA Lunar Orbiter program in 1966-67. It was a series of five probes to map the Moon’s surface in preparation for the Apollo landings. All but forgotten now, they were a pretty big deal at the time. The recently restored image was even referred to as the “picture of the century.” Click on it for the full size version, and the full impact. There had been pictures sent back from the Moon before, but they were looking down pictures that were little different than what could be seen from Earth through a telescope. This picture was the first to really show the Moon’s surface in a way comparable to what one sees on Earth. It showed for the first time that the Moon had hills and valleys and a landscape just like Earth, that the Moon was a real place that people could walk on, not just some thing hanging in the sky. I chose it because for me it evokes just how real this event was, the history books can’t really capture how exciting the race to the Moon was, it was a big part of our culture and our lives for nearly a decade.
Lastly, a special word of thanks and commemoration to all those who died, American, Russian, and others, in the effort to make us a spacefaring race. Hundreds have died actually, most of them in dreadful launch pad explosions. And of course most people know about the Challenger and Columbia disasters. For my part, I want to pay a special tribute to “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee. They were the crew of Apollo 1 who died in their capsule during a training exercise on January 27th 1967. Again, it’s hard to express what a shocking event this was at the time. I was a withdrawn ten year old kid, and I remember just what a big deal this was to the grown ups. Even now it’s sad to think about, the poor fellows not only lost their chance to go to the Moon, they lost it all. And sadly, like most US space exploration fatalities, it shouldn’t have happened. Suffice it to say some corners were cut in the effort to get a man to the Moon.
This however is a post extolling the good things about space exploration, and hopefully illustrating in some small way how people felt about it a the time. The astronauts involved still remember, they want us to go to Mars next!
“I would not see our candle blown out in the wind. It is a small thing, this dear gift of life handed us mysteriously out of immensity. I would not have that gift expire… If I seem to be beating a dead horse again and again, I must protest: No! I am beating, again and again, living man to keep him awake and move his limbs and jump his mind… What’s the use of looking at Mars through a telescope, sitting on panels, writing books, if it isn’t to guarantee, not just the survival of mankind, but mankind surviving forever!” — Ray Bradbury
(The above image is a NASA image and is free to use so long as it is not used to imply that NASA endorses a commercial product. Doug’s Darkworld is about as far from a commercial endeavour as one can get, and I also hereby certify that NASA does not endorse Doug’s Darkworld. Phew, safe now. As a final note, a lot of animals have died in the exploration of space. Few, if any, of them were volunteers. God rest their souls, so to speak. I not even sure what to think about it, but thought they deserved at least a mention in my footnote.)