The Apollo moon voyages have been described as the most epic adventure mankind has made. Reams of philosophic and theologic discussions will continue, but to have stepped off our home planet and stepped on to another world was one of those rare moments of history that serve as turning of a chapter in the human story.
Our view of the starry night seems so eternal and pristine; trying to fathom the great leaps in cosmic distance and eras leaves us astonished and awe-struck, we inhabitants of this wonderful speck of dust we call the Earth. Where do we fit in, and what is our place? Where did it come from and where does it lead? What came before time and space? Those with faith in a Creator may rest assured; others find their own contentment, their own way. All of us, however, can share in the grandeur and ponder this place we know as the Universe.
Those who are old enough to have lived and witnessed NASA’s Apollo space program and the moon landings of 1969-1972 bear witness to this historic period. What are your memories? “Looking Up” readers are welcome to share their recollections by emailing the writer (address below). It seems amazing that anyone younger than about 45 doesn’t remember it all. For the “younger set,” what does mankind’s forage into space mean to you? What expectations do you have of our future in space, or should we stay close to home?
My story is not unlike millions of others. I was born a year before the Soviets launched the first satellite, Sputnik-1. Since I can remember I have been fascinated by the idea; I recall the black and white TV, and the pencil-like Mercury rockets blasting off. I recall hearing about John Glenn orbiting the Earth; watching with great enthusiasm as the Gemini astronauts prepared for Apollo.
July 20, 1969, 50 years ago, I sat in the front room of our house in Honesdale, staying up a bit late for the average 13-year-old. My parents and a neighbor were there as well, with the TV set on. Hours earlier I watched and heard the epic words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Late that evening, we watched the grainy TV image as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and quietly set foot on the lunar surface. Silence was broken as he uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I stayed “glued” to the set that November as Apollo 12 followed. Then there was Apollo 13, and like millions of not billions around the world, we prayed and feel extreme anxiety as the astronauts and the legion supporting them on the ground, found a way for them to come home after the spacecraft malfunctioned.
I watched the coverage of Apollo 14, 16, and the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17.
Although my interest was unwavering, I lamented as live TV coverage became less and less. NASA had planned three more missions, but Congress cut off the funding.
There was much more for us to do - the Vietnam War and domestic issues at home. In the half century since, space-faring nations around the world have made great leaps. The Russians and Americans finally learned to work together, and both serve on the International Space Station. The Station continues to serve as a training ground for deeper space voyages. Meanwhile, tremendous scientific exploration has been achieved with robotic craft, going beyond Pluto and combing the dusty Martian dunes.
Today, NASA, and other nations, are ambitiously working to return astronauts to the Moon, and take the next step to Mars.
Remember when Apollo 15 astronaut Col. James Irwin visited the Wayne County Fair in 1974? I sure do, and still have the autograph he gave me.
I pause to honor the memory of the late Joe and Rose Funke, two of this column’s most avid supporters. They lived at Lake Como, in northern Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Joe had a very unusual and personal connection to Apollo. He was one of the engineers on the Apollo program and worked on the Lunar Module - the lander. His mischievous side came out at least once on the job. He shared with me his story about the lander being readied for launch, he slipped a piece of adhesive tape on a rung of the ladder the astronauts would use to reach the lunar surface. Joe wrote out his full name on the piece of tape. After the mission, Joe had a chance to ask Neil Armstrong if he noticed what he had done when climbing down the ladder. Armstrong said, yes, he saw it.
The Full Moon is on July 16. Be sure to catch the moonlight this week, and reflect on Apollo’s boot prints on the Moon, and what our connection with Earth’s natural satellite can be in the decades ahead.
Please send me your memories of the Apollo missions or the space program in general. A follow-up column is planned.
Keep looking up!
Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.