Man’s Romance With Adventure

The 40th anniversary of the Moon landing has conjured up many wonderful memories for those of us old enough to have been “witnesses” to that achievement.  I do recall those days very vividly.  We had already made the test flights with the earlier Apollo missions around the Moon and return to earth.  All during the ’60’s we had been in an intense competition with the Soviets in space exploration but by the mid ’60’s it was becoming obvious that we had the lead and were pulling away.  So much is owed to Von Braun and his coterie of associates he brought with him from Germany after the War.  They designed and built the rocket engine.  That was the most critical component of the flying machine to reach the Moon.  It had to have enormous power to lift the space vehicle not only into orbit but then accelerate it to speeds sufficient to escape the earth’s gravitional pull.   Like many other young men of that era I was fascinated by the whole concept of space flight and I had followed all our missions closely.  But to actually go to the Moon and put a man on the surface of another object in space was so incredible.

This was different than some of the early missions of discovery in the 15th and 16th century because then they weren’t sure exactly where they were going and what the would find.  But they were venturing out into the unknown.  Here our objective was very well known visually since man crawled out of the seas.  But it was a grand adventure of engineering and ingenuity and fraught with danger.  There were so many things that could go wrong and you couldn’t pull into a local servie station for emergency repairs.  Although the crew was in constant touch with earth they were on their own for the most part. 

We had a black and white TV like most everyone else then.  The color TV’s that were around weren’t really very good quality and even if you could afford one they weren’t worth the extra money.  We had two kiddos at the time one was 2 1/2 and the other was just 6 months old.  I was working downtown at a firm and was lucky because the trip was started on a Friday and went to Monday.  I took off early on Monday to be there for the event.  I had remained glued to the TV through most of the weekend except for helping with the kids.  The coverage was pretty much around the clock is my memory which was very unusual at that time.  This was long before cable TV and only the regular broadcast networks were active along with a handful of local stations.  I hung on every report of the progress they were making as they covered the distance to the Moon.  Once there things happened quite quickly compared to how things had gone before.  Events had been relative slow for much of the trip but when they were injected into Moon orbit they moved fast.  My memory is they only made a few orbits of the Moon and began the descent right away.  I recall being particularly anxious when they separated from the Moon orbiter and left Collins behind in orbit.   It is hard to even imagine the feeling of loneliness that must have grabbed him at the moment.  He was flying 250,000  miles from earth in a vehicle the size of a SUV essentially and there was no one around if anything went wrong and he could only watch his crewmates as the lowered themselves to the Moon.

When Armstrong and Aldrin landed I was stunned.  It had actually happened.  Even if something else went wrong we had put a man on the Moon.   I felt like anything else that happened was pure icing on the cake.  My first thought was about whether the rockets would fire and work correctly for them when they attempted to blast off later and return to orbit and Collins.  What a awful fate to be stranded on the Moon.  We are all so accustomed these days to seeing everything live on TV that it is difficult to imagine the immense excitement that I felt that we would be able to actually see a man descend to the Moon’s surface and take steps–live and on TV.  The TV cameras in those days were mostly huge devices and the size of a gas lawn mower.  Those live pictures made me feel a part of the adventure.  I went without sleep for quite some time.  I guess I was up for over 24 hours straight.  I was so proud of our country.  There was a lot of negative press about our culture and mores from the media at that time and the hippie counter-culture movement.  But those guys on the Moon and the men who sent them there were not hippies.  There were ordinary Americans who studied hard and worked hard and were doing something noble–noble for all mankind.

I regret that I will not live to see us put a man on Mars.  It is to our shame and to our future regret that we have backed off from aggressive space exploration.  It is that spirit of adventure and inquiry that propels man beyond the now.  Facing the unknown and danger for knowledge and discovery is without question the most compelling of human qualities.  It is that quality that will always advance us to places better than we are.  Retreating from that challenge and progress is a step backward toward the caves.  When we stop seeking and exploring in science or the universe we are creating an artificial barrier and denying our essential humanity.  No matter the troubles on earth we shouldn’t abandon are search for knowledge and the truths about courage and the wonders of the mind.

The Moon landing was so incredible it is hard to describe.  How do you describe the Grand Canyon or describe the beauty of the Mona Lisa or the sounds of Beethoven?

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Filed under Astronomy, Culture, Environment, history

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