Monday, July 20, 2009
Could it really be 40 years?
Certainly I'm going to post some recollections on the history of today. 40 years ago, my family and I watched grainy black and white footage on an equally grainy black and white TV of one man gingerly working his way backwards down a ladder to set foot on the moon. I remember the night, and it was night when this happened, being clear and the moon was visible, although I think it was only a half or three-quarter moon. We watched, mesmerized by what we were seeing, and I remember dad got up to go outside and gaze up at the moon, almost unbelieving that we could get live television feed or that a human left this planet to go to another.
He got out the telescope and aimed it at the orb in the sky, hoping to see, for his own eyes, evidence that the television footage was real. But the small telescope we had, which could make the craters on the moon clear, could not show the small size of a single man on the face.
I remember Walter Cronkite's rapt gaze at his monitors. I remember my mother setting down her ironing to sit on the sofa. I remember lying on my stomach on the floor looking up at the TV. We had it placed on top of the upright piano (which my sister has, incidentally). It was a balmy July night. The day had been warm and sunny but the night was perfect. All you could hear, out in the country, was the sound of the cows and the pigs and the crickets and Neil Armstrong's voice, "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
About 15 years ago, Carole, her dad and I went to the Cernan Space Center at Triton College. Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the moon, was making an appearance to talk about his adventures. We were members of the Center which has an IMAX Screen. At the time, it was one of two in a 500 mile radius. The other was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Cernan had given Triton College money to build the screen and to fund an astronomy program. We saw a lot of movies there for a fraction of the cost of the MS&I. Plus, they had astronomers who gave monthy sky watching programs. I first saw the rings of Saturn via a January program then did.
Cernan talked about the rigors of space flight, how it felt to be headed to the moon, how it felt to know he would be the last man to walk on the surface and other items about space. He opened the floor up for questions and the first question was about colonizing Mars and the political ramifications of that. The room gave a collective sigh, not audible, but there nonetheless. The woman seemed almost to be baiting Cernan. But he gave a gracious, if long winded and obtuse answer.
Then he looked elsewhere for a question. Spotting Carole's hand in the air, he called on her. "What the ground like on the moon?" she asked. Cernan's face lit up and he spoke directly to her. "It's covered with this very fine gray dust," he said. He went on to talk about sinking into the dust and how they were concerned the dust would clog parts. Someone asked how the earth looked from the moon and he remarked how it appeared to be golf ball size and how hard it was to imagine that was home, where his wife, his kids, his dog and his pool were. It was clear he was profoundly affected by his experience. Carole was thrilled that she got to meet a real live astronaut.
So, I look up at the moon and remember doing the same thing 40 years ago. I remember the popcorn dad made. I remember the Pepsi we had, in glass bottles. I remember the crickets chirping and going to bed in awe of what we were able to accomplish as a country.
Beverage: English Breakfast