Last week was a week. It began with, of course, the LLWS from Williamsport, Penn and ended with the passing of another good man. Then there was a bunch of other stuff in between, like the sniping on the TV between Obama and that other guy. Oh yeah, one more thing, Anderson Cooper is still gay.
But today I’d like to reflect on what the passing of Neil Armstrong means to me. In July of 1969 I was teaching a summer course at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. It was a course designed to teach teachers how to write, film, edit and present their own movies. The point of the course was to have fun and to provide useful tools so that they could teach their students how to do the same thing. I also knew that NASA sent three people, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the moon to attempt a landing in July. Being an early space-geek I had followed (and still do) the manned space program since it’s inception. Beginning with the Mercury Program (1 guy), the Gemini Program (2 guys) and the Apollo program (3 guys). I watched all the launches on TV. I wondered how the behemoth Atlas rocket could ever get off the ground. I can even remember a “Wonderful World of Disney” show back in the ’50’s touting space exploration with a three staged rocket demonstrated by Wernher Von Braun. He was the guy who was responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II. He was also the guy who’s design led to the Saturn V booster rocket which put Americans on the moon. (See war stuff can be turned into peace stuff)… Good times for a geek. I had longed to travel in space with those three pioneers, but there were only three seats…three tight fitting seats. I would have had claustrophobia by mile 25,000. I would have wanted to go outside and float around for a bit before coming back inside.
Back to the 29th of July 1969…the big songs then were “In the Year 2525” a rather downbeat tune about the future, the silly “In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley, and “Give Peace A Chance” by the always entertaining Plastic Ono Band. I almost forgot, there was a little unending war going on in South East Asia. But on that night something wonderful and distracting happened. It was a beautiful evening and out the window from where I was sitting, glued to the TV was a full moon hanging bright in the black Eastern Washington sky. After a scorching day, the evening was pleasantly cool. The TV was turned to CBS for live coverage. The silence in the TV room during the descent to the moon’s surface was deafening. It was only broken by the commentator (which I assume was Cronkite) and the little “beeps” after conversations between Houston and the LM and Michael Collins still up in space above the moon. When I heard “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed” I jumped out of my seat and applauded. I applauded all the test pilots who went before, the three astronauts who died in the Apollo flash fire, hell I even applauded “Laika” the Russian dog the Soviets sent into orbit and who died in orbit back in ’57.
Then silence in the room again as the hatch opened and a camera caught a ghostly figure making its way down to the moon’s surface. The figure, of course, was Armstrong. Would he sink? Would he fall over and not be able to get up? Then the famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Wholey Moley! Sience Fiction just became Science Fact. For a moment all the international troubles of the day were swept away in one sentence. On July 29th 1969 the world was united. Would that that spirit could last. With one eye on the TV and another out the window looking at the moon, all I could do was wonder. Humans had visited, set up a flag, walked around for a few hours on another world that was not earth. Armstrong is gone now, finding his place in the cosmos he brought into our living rooms. Armstrong became for me the visual example of what we can do when we work together. As a matter of fact I have a short list of things I learned that humid July 29th in Eastern Washington State:
1. we can do anything we put our mind to
2. a robot footprint cannot match a human footprint
3. the stars are asking us to visit
4. hope is better than fear
5. truth is better than fiction
So tonite and for the next few days we will be watching another event, closer to home and we will hear speeches and promises and sometimes not so truthful statements from people. Our task is to try and find the truth in the rhetoric. This event is nowhere near the events of so long ago. But it s an event we need to pay attention to. There will be dire warnings of impending doom if we don’t vote for their guy. I know the sane among you will see this event for what it is so I needn’t spell it out for you. I’m pretty sure it will not be a “giant leap” for mankind.
Safe journeys Neil Armstrong.
and so it goes….