July 20, 2009
July 20, 1969.
I lay on my stomach on the indoor/outdoor carpet (think AstroTurf) in our basement family room, eyes glued to the TV set. President Kennedy's vision had been realized: we had men on the moon!
I had watched every takeoff of every rocket and landing of every space capsule up to then (if I was near a TV); watched them bobbing in the ocean, waiting to be picked up by a Navy ship. (If you ever get to D.C.'s Air and Space Museum, just look at how small a space capsule was in the early days...and how primitive all of the electronics looked). Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter - they were the new adventurers, these astronauts. They were our heroes.
On January 27, 1967, I also remember sitting on the living room couch and watching a movie with my parents when news of the fiery deaths of three Apollo 1 crew members was broadcast on the TV. We lost Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee on the launchpad during a training session.
Despite that earlier tragedy, NASA continued working toward the goal of a lunar landing by the end of the 60s.
It's hard to believe that 2 1/2 years after the deaths of the crew of Apollo 1, the Apollo 13 crew would successfully travel to the moon, actually land, and return safely to Earth. Nowadays, there would be fifteen independent investigations into the tragedy; it would be years before we'd know what had gone wrong (if ever).
The quality of the black and white video and audio was amazingly good for signals that had to travel six million miles.
I distinctly remember feeling proud to be an American when I saw the flag planted in the lunar soil. But I must admit, I also thought about Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian, and how they'd both try to plant flags on alien planets.
Walter Cronkite was left speechless when we heard "The Eagle has landed". See a short clip here.
He showed his human side, he forgot all about polish and professionalism - he was just an American, and an amazed one at that.
Just like me.
We added Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to our list of heroes.
For a short while, we could forget about the war in Vietnam and of all the political and social unrest in this country, and around the world. We felt good about America again.
Later that night, I stood outside in the backyard and gazed at that same moon (straining to see a glimpse of humanity, no matter how remote the possibility). It changed the whole meaning of "the man in the moon".
I gazed at the lil sliver of the moon tonight, too. Forty years ago. Wow.