Saturday, July 20, 2019

Landing on the Moon 50 Years Ago Today

I’m grateful that I was old enough to understand and remember the moon landing, and young enough to enjoy it. I was 11 years old at the time. It’s hard to believe that it was really 50 years ago. As far as I was concerned the Sixties was something that happened on television. Nothing that I saw happen on the TV affected me until later in life. But I did follow the space race eagerly. I saw all the Mercury missions starting with John Glenn’s orbit of the earth. I watched all the now forgotten Gemini missions, and the Apollo missions. I had two relatives who worked for NASA at the time on my mother’s side.

 People really did come together to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing, even people who normally hated each other. There was a shared sense not so much of national pride, but of wonder at seeing something unprecedented that our ancestors never imagined, of seeing what was previously unknown now revealed and made familiar. It was the thrill of shining a light into dark mystery and making discoveries.

Amazing as it was to see the moon up so close in all those Apollo missions, the most remarkable part was seeing a view of the earth that all previous history believed was the exclusive privilege of angels and gods. For the first time, we all could see the whole world in a single snapshot taken from the moon. All of us, scientists and laypeople, rich and poor, great and lowly got the same view. It turned out that the earth looks nothing like the globe in our school classrooms. There are no borders or place names. There are a lot more clouds. And it is very blue with water and atmosphere. We discovered that we are creatures shaped by gravity and atmospheric pressure living at the bottom of an ocean of air. We belong to the earth quite literally. The black void of space is no home for us; no air, no gravity, no up or down, extreme heat and cold, and full of dangerous radiation. Space is very dangerous to explore as the loss of 2 Space Shuttles with their crews, and the near loss of Apollo 13 reminded us. Those missions into space were shots in the dark full of risks. And yet, we can’t help but want to travel beyond our home.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – TS Eliot.

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