But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun—almost as hot as it is here today—and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold. —President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, speech at Rice University
50 years ago tomorrow 3 brave men—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—left the confines of Planet Earth and headed for the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin actually landed on the lunar surface and walked around on it. All 3 men safely returned to Earth. Neil Armstrong died in 2012.
I have been a space junkie for 60+ years. In the late 1950s the Race for Space was as real to me as the salt air that surrounded me in South Florida. During the summer months I used to watch the rocket launches at Cape Canaveral on TV. The Vanguard series were the worst ones, either exploding on the launchpad or being destroyed in flight due to malfunctions. It didn’t bode well for the idea of a manned launch and when that finally happened I was in the 8th grade.
The school that I attended lined us up outside the classrooms so that we might have a chance to see the contrail of Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital rocket flight. We didn’t see anything resembling the path of a rocket ship. Or an airplane. Or even a bird. We returned to class hot and sweaty—at least I did—but the die was cast and the USA was challenging the Russians for for supremacy in Space and command of the ultimate high ground.
By 1962 we had a black & white TV in the school’s library and over the course of the day when the various grades had Science class we were allowed to spend the hour watching a live broadcast of John Glenn’s momentous orbital flight.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.
This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward. [JFK]
As my life began to get busy with high school and college space flights became more commonplace. They were still amazing events, but my attention was diverted to other, more immediate, concerns. By 1969 JFK’s challenge to land men on the moon and successfully return them to Earth was rapidly approaching. It was not yet seven years since his famous speech in Texas and men were already walking in Space, manned capsules were docking with each other, and a Lunar Lander had been designed and built.
My maternal grandfather was born in the 1880s and in his lifetime he witnessed transportation methods transition from a horse & buggy, to automobiles, to propeller-driven airplanes, and then to jet-powered flight, and finally to rocketships that took men to outer space and back, and landed them on the Moon. We didn’t know it at the time, but each of us stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching the Astronauts walk on the moon. I talked to him the next day and he told me what it was like for a person of his generation to witness such a momentous event in real-time, in his lifetime.
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. [JFK]
Let’s return to the 21st Century and take a moment to appreciate that we have more technology in the palm of our hand than the Astronauts did when they landed on the Moon. My latest use of this tech boom is a rapidly growing appreciation for Podcasts. It began innocently enough by tuning into comedian Bill Burr’s twice-a-week, Monday Morning podcast. I get a kick out of him mainly because he reminds me so much of a lot of guys that I worked with in the building trades.
Friends have suggested some podcasts to me over the months and I have listened to Death in Ice Valley, The Root of Evil, and Revisionist History. HBO’s fantastic series, Chernobyl, has it’s own podcast that goes behind the story and explains the how and why of the TV episodes.
My current favorite is 13 Minutes to the Moon, by the BBC. In this podcast we listen to Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham and former Apollo engineer Poppy Northcutt—the first woman to work as an engineer in an operational support role in Nasa’s Mission Control. The Lunar Lander has begun its descent, and the world is holding its collective breath, in this story behind the last 13 minutes of flight.
To the thousands of people—and their families—who worked for NASA: Thank you for paying attention when you attended school and for your knowledge and sacrifice to make the world a better place to live. We would not be where we are today without you.
iTunes Podcast Links
- Monday Morning Podcast
- Death in Ice Valley
- The Root of Evil **NOTE: This is a graphic murder mystery that may not be suitable for everyone.**
- Revisionist History
- 13 Minutes to The Moon
Header image Photo Credit: BBC Sounds webpage