Thursday, July 20, 2017
I've mentioned before that I was a NASA kid growing up. I devoured everything I could get my hands on that was space-related. Whenever there was a launch or recovery on television (and I was not locked in durance vile at school) I was anchored in front of the screen, breathing in living history with the fascinated fervor only a youngster may possess.
I subscribed to the NASA newsletters for kids, such as they were. I spent hours in the library, reading and re-reading books and articles on space and space flight. I glued together countless spacecraft models, playing with chemicals that youngsters are not even allowed to know the existence of today. I got in a bit of trouble in second grade for making the teacher look like an idiot when I patiently but firmly explained that Mars and Venus are, in fact, smaller than Earth.
Hell, I've no doubt that I knew more about the Soviet space program than 99 percent of the people in my state, perhaps in the nation.
I was shocked when Grissom, White and Chaffee died on January 27, 1967, on the launch pad at launch complex 34 in Apollo 1. I exulted when Apollo 7 returned Americans to space where we belonged. I was giddy with delight when Wally Schirra, Don Eisele and Walt Cunningham broadcast actual live television from orbit.
I was nailed to the floor in front of the television when Apollo 8 actually flew to the moon. I remember how moved I was when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders read from Genisis.
In my dotage listening to that message has the power to make water run from my eyes and down my face. Whoda thunkit?
In the late winter of 1969 Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott and Rusty Schweickart in Apollo 9 did 10 days in Earth orbit and put the Lunar Excursion Module (Grumman Iron Works, Baby!) through its paces.
Two months later Apollo 10 returned to the moon. Anchored in lunar orbit, John Young remained aboard the command module Charlie Brown, while Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan took the LEM Snoopy down to within 8 miles of the surface in a final dress rehearsal for the actual landing. Eight miles! That's only 42,000 feet! Until they'd actually returned to the command module and discarded the LEM I was on tenterhooks wondering if they'd "break the rules" and sneak in a lunar landing after all.
Then in the High Summer of July, I watched Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong roar into the heavens from Pad 39A on July 16. Four days later I watched in awe as Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon in Eagle, while Collins remained in orbit aboard Columbia. As the warm summer day turned to evening I watched as the first men clambered down out of the LEM and walked about on the actual surface of the moon!
When the broadcast ended I stepped out into the summer night and looked at the moon. It was almost due south and was a waxing crescent, nearly at first quarter phase. I could see the Sea of Tranquility. I looked and looked and strained as hard as I could but I could not see any sign of Eagle on the surface or Columbia in orbit.
Has it been 48 years already?