Friday, July 19, 2019

Memories of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50 Years Later

During my childhood athletes were not the only heroes. I loved Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. However, Astronauts were my real heroes. Being launched into the unknown in a tiny capsule above unknown amounts of explosive materials using bleeding edge technology was unfathomable. Every launch was awe inspiring.

I grew up during the era of the space race to the moon. We believed in American exceptionalism. We believed in the dream of JFK. We believed in infinite possibilities. Despite the sword of Damocles hanging over us that was the threat of nuclear annihilation, we as  a people believed in the innovation of our scientists, the ability to create new technologies that would propel us to the moon before the “evil empire” over which the Soviets presided, and that we Americans would stand proud of our collective accomplishments. We did it not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

The culmination of our 1960’s era dreams resulted in the entirety of the nation staying  awake to tune into Walte Cronkite  to watch the grainy black & white transmissions from Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin stepping from the lunar module onto the surface of the moon. This was the most jubilant moment of my childhood. Listening to Neil Armstrong’s comment that this was ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” became the defining moment in my memory and of the 1960’s.

My 10th Birthday was the following day, July 21, 1969. My birthday cake was decorated with a lunar module, American Flag, and the Apollo 11 astronauts. The memories are seared into my mind. NASA represented the epitome of American ingenuity. 50 years laters Apollo 11 still represents the apex of American exceptionalism.

NASA scientists and engineers continued to research and develop unequalled technologies. However, launches of the Apollo rockets and space shuttles became commonplace to those born after the moon landing. People stopped gathering around televisions to watch launches, missions, and landings. We had become blasé. And following the explosion of the Challenger, Americans had less tolerance for the risks of space travel. While the tragedy of Apollo 1 did not cause Americans to lose heart, a less space focused people in the 1980’s concluded the cost of the research and the risk to human life caused a newer generation to reconsider the benefits of space exploration.

To those of us who loved the concept of going where no man has gone before, that is one of the greatest losses of our modern culture. How I miss the excitement of a rocket launch, the holding of one’s breath as the capsule is launched beyond the earth’s atmosphere, and the admiration of those brave men & women who look to the stars in pursuit of our collective dreams.

And still today, whenever my plane lands, I text my loved ones : the eagle has landed. ❤️

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