Sunday, July 20, 2008

Neil Armstrong and the dream of space

When I was 14 and away at summer camp, I was keenly aware, like most of my male peers, of the ongoing space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. I was always interested in reading stories about the astronauts, who were, after all, national heroes. I followed the story about the fiery deaths of Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee at the Kennedy Space Center a year and a half before. I mourned the loss of our first space-related deaths at the very beginning of the Apollo program. Several years before that I read about the sub-orbital flight of Alan Shepherd in TV Guide and the other Mercury astronauts like John Glenn when their flights were covered in Life and Look Magazines. Throughout my elementary school years and into junior high school, the Gemini program suggested that the U.S. was way behind the Soviet Union. But as the Gemini program advanced, and I grew older, it was apparent that the Soviet Union was losing steam and that the U.S. was pulling ahead in the race toward landing a man on the moon. Although it is often quoted today, I don't remember John Kennedy's famous "man on the moon" speech, but I recall the national pride we had when our astronauts took a "walk" in outer space or read the Bible while passing the surface of the moon. So, on July 20, 1969 in the middle of the morning, I joined with hundreds of campers watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon. "That's one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said. Unfortunately, the communication between the L.E.M (Lunar Excursion Module) and the Houston Space Center dropped the "and" from being heard. Forevermore Armstrong was quoted as "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind." It's a minor point, but on such an auspicious event, one should be quoted correctly. So, thirty-nine years later the date passes by and I remember how much in awe I was at seeing men on the moon. It seems odd that we haven't had a similar manned flight since Apollo 17, which left the surface of the moon in December of 1972, shortly after Watergate. Back then I thought we would have had a manned installation on the moon by the beginning of the new millennium, but times dictated differently for the space program. Instead, we concentrated on the Space Shuttle program, two of which (Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003) were lost in very tragic ways. Perhaps the dream of space exploration will become a reality for my son. Sadly, the promise of what could have been has not yet come to fruition.

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