Monday, July 20, 2009

Night of the Longest Step

I caught the space bug in the mid-1960s, hearing reports of unmanned craft landing on the moon. I wondered why they would go to the trouble of something that would crash-land, how it could continue working. In time, they made one land softly.

Eventually, they found a way to send a man there, to land safely, and to return. The whole world watched it happen, and for those brief hours, the whole world had won the space race.

I remember how it felt here on earth. Like the sinking of the Titanic, when the band played "Nearer My God To Thee," the world as we knew it was ending, and another one beginning, with vistas wider than before The radio stations interrupted regular programming to play songs like Jonathan King's first hit from 1965. All was still, in anticipation of the greatest moment in our history.

The houses on Winnebago Drive were all tuned into a stark image from a quarter of a million miles away. It was in black and white -- not that it mattered at our house, since we were the last on the block to get color.

We were allowed to stay up most of the night to watch it too. You know, "the end of the world as we know it" and all that.

I met Neil Armstrong twice in the years that followed. The first was when he was keynote speaker, for the Dan Beard Council Eagle Scout Class of 1971. The second time was a bit less conventional. By 1974, Armstrong had already assumed a professorship with the Aeronautical Engineering Department at the University of Cincinnati. The art and design college was across the way from the engineering college, and our instructor invited him to speak to our Design Fundamentals class. Armstrong was never comfortable with the limelight, and here he was speaking to a bunch of hippie wannabes about... kite design???

In a related development, it was exactly thirty years after that day, that the sunken Mercury capsule dubbed "Liberty Bell 7," piloted by Virgil "Gus" Grissom in a 1961 suborbital flight, was finally recovered from the floor of the Atlantic.

As the late Walter Cronkite would have said, "That's the way it is."

[UPDATE: Think it was all a waste of money? Computerworld says that ten Apollo-era technologies are in use today. You're probably using one of them right now, you big dummy! Click here.]

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