My latest package from Amazon arrived a couple days ago, and included a copy of MoonFire, a gorgeous coffee-table tome from Taschen, with text by Norman Mailer and photos from NASA. It’s a history of the Apollo 11 mission, with a brief history of the U.S. space program starting with the Mercury and Gemini programs, and then the Apollo flights up through 11. I’ve seen many of these photos before — I’ve been a space nut since I was a kid, but many of them are new to me.
Apollo 11 landed on the moon in July of 1969. I was ten years old that summer. I was already an avid fan of the space program. Every young boy wanted to be an astronaut, of course, or a fireman, but I’m not sure if I wanted to go up in space as much as I wanted to just be involved in the effort in some way, probably as one of the engineers or controllers. (Even now, when I go to see a play or concert or other similar production I spend as much time gazing up at the scenery and stage work, to see how it all works, as I do the production itself.) It didn’t hurt that my uncle worked for NASA, training the Apollo astronauts in the use of their in-flight computer systems; when I told him that I was interested in the space program he sent me a few books and posters, and a gorgeous wall-size map of the moon.
Not much later, for my fifth grade science fair project, rather than having any sort of hands-on demonstration, or something that moved or made a noise (everyone had the same volcano that burned some concoction that fizzed and showered sparks), I simply hung all of my gorgeous posters on the gymnasium wall, and sat in a folding chair waiting for someone to ask me a question, which of course no one did. My teacher took pity on me, came to sit next to me, and asked a few.
As with most Americans, and a lot of other people around the world, I watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on TV. I remember the event — a bunch of us kids were outside playing frisbee on the warm summer evening when the neighbour lady started shouting at us to hurry and come inside to watch TV. A strange request, but she insisted. I’m glad that she did, that she recognized the import of the occasion, and made sure that we watched. Then, on an afternoon a few days later, I was at a different neighbour’s house (I think perhaps negotiating a lawn-mowing job) when I saw the splashdown on TV. Another historic moment.
I, together with millions of other kids my age, never became an astronaut. I didn’t go to work for NASA or even go anywhere near an engineering profession (though my son did). But I did retain an appreciation for what can be accomplished by science, by the scientific method, by rational thinking. The only TV shows that I can stand to watch are educational, preferably technology based — think MythBusters. I’m very intrigued by the history of technology and its effect upon our society. I like figuring out how things work, and like building and fixing things with my hands. It’s not quite going to the moon, but it’s better than watching sports.