So here we are. It’s been forty years since humans first stepped foot on the moon. Forty years! Looking back from this perspective there are two things that surprise me the most. The first is what was accomplished in 1969 with fairly primitive technology. The second is that we haven’t really come very far in the forty years since then, at least compared to our expectations back then.
I was seven years old when Apollo 11 went to the moon. That was old enough that I have general memories of the excitement and awe surrounding the event, but not old enough that I have truly specific memories. I know my family was gathered in front of the TV watching that night and I know that I understood on a basic level that it really was a leap for humankind. But I’ve seen replays of the video so often in the years since then that I can’t filter out what I remember on my own and what I’ve seen in the years since.
I do have a very specific memory of watching Apollo 15 astronauts walk on the moon in 1971. It was a Sunday and after the morning church service someone had set up a TV set in the lounge area so we could stand around and watch. Even though in a sense we’d already been there, done that, it was still just as exciting to me to watch the live footage. I felt the same way again when the space shuttle started going into space. Awe at what we were accomplishing and excitement over what it might mean for the future.
Space fascinated me as a child, and I think that was quite common in those years as the space program got underway and picked up steam. My interest was fueled by watching Star Trek on TV and by the fact that my mom liked reading science fiction. An interest that she passed on to me as I became a reader myself.
I remember the first plastic models I ever put together. I’d seen the set in a local store and just had to have it! In order to get it I had to save up my 25 cents per week allowance to make the purchase, though I don’t recall how much it cost. The set included 5 models in it, all different types of rockets that had gone into space. The biggest and most interesting of course was a Saturn V rocket with a capsule for astronauts on top. It was the only model in the set that was used in manned spaceflight.
I also remember a space game and booklet that I’d received as a birthday gift. It was a thick cardboard folder that had an educational booklet stored in the inside front flap that talked about the space program. The folder opened out into a game that had a spinner and markers included. The goal of the game was to travel to the moon and orbit it and come back to Earth before your opponent. Since we hadn’t landed on the moon yet just orbiting it was a big deal!
I’m a sentimental soul at heart, and when I read about or watch a documentary about the space program in the 60’s and early 70’s I often get a bit teary eyed. The famous photos of the Earth from those first trips into space still fill me with wonder and awe at the exquisite beauty. The astronauts risked their lives going where not only no man had gone before, but where humans aren’t really intended to be. There is no mercy and no forgiveness for mistakes made in the harsh vacuum of space. Yet they went and did it anyway. It’s still one of the most amazing achievements of humankind.