Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts From My Brother about the Space Program

This is a continuation of my earlier post about the 42nd anniversary of the moon landing.  I asked my brother to write down his remembrances. This is what he sent.

I am Regina’s brother and yes, I was twelve years old at the time of the moon landing and yes, Regina was on my lap just as she said (My finger has always been more interesting than anything on television).

After the tragic fire of Apollo 1, excitement for the Apollo program really did not return until the flight of Apollo 8. Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to go around the moon. They did not land on the moon, as their mission was to be a test run for the Apollo 11 landing. Although Apollo 8 did not land on the moon, they were the first to see the ‘dark side of the moon’.

The Apollo missions between 8 and 11 were also test flights that worked out some of the other aspects of the anticipated moon landing.

So by the time Apollo 11 launched, the public had witnessed (even if only on TV) the amazing power of the rocket which was many times more powerful than the Shuttle rockets. This however was the BIG mission and when Apollo 11 launched, everybody (except my mother) was intensely interested in every aspect of what was happening. Television, radio, and the newspapers could not get enough information out to a very curious, proud and tense public. Remember that, this was happening during the era when the Vietnam War was being broadcast into our living rooms every single night, that the anti-war movement was in full swing, that it was just a year after the deaths of MLK and RFK, and that we had Richard Nixon as our new president. In short, the people were ready for some good news, but so many shocking things had happened in recent history that we were all a little afraid to let ourselves feel good about the space program (just in case another terrible thing was about to assault our collective consciences).

America was starving for a reason to celebrate the fact that we were all still ‘Americans’ and the Apollo 11 mission was giving us a reason to be proud again. When the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander was actually descending onto the moon, it was as if the whole world gave a collective cheer! It really wasn’t until that day that most of us in the United States understood how closely the rest of the world was following the mission as well. The “us” became much larger at that moment as the whole planet seemed to celebrate the fact that “two of us” (human beings) had actually landed on the moon! Televisions were on all over the world no matter what time it happened to be wherever they were.

I watched CBS News with Walter Cronkite when Neil Armstrong went down that short ladder onto the surface on the moon. Therefore, with little sister in arms, I witnessed that historical moment and, having been a kid who had collected newspaper articles about the Apollo program from the beginning (out of the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner) I was certainly excited and very happy. Seeing those fuzzy television pictures of Neil and Buzz on the moon was amazing. It seemed as if every science fiction fantasy written about space over the last 200 years had suddenly come to life.

There was still a great deal on tension however. Would the craft on the moon blast off and join with the orbiting craft as designed? Would the slingshot effect work as predicted to bring them home again? Would the parachutes slow the craft down into the ocean? Would the three astronauts bring home some “space bug” that would wipe out life on earth? Really, they were worried about that!

Yet it all worked out fine and the earth had a few days of enormous celebration. Then we had to go about dealing with all the pressing issues of the time. If you were not there, I can only tell you that it was as if the world was having a decade long migraine headache and Apollo 11 was a pill that gave us some momentary, and much needed, relief from that agony.

Now we have NO manned space program in the United States. It can be debated whether that is good or bad but certainly, we have lost something; a piece of what has identified us as Americans for the past half century. I miss it already.

- Jeff Bynum - July 2011 (as always, forgive any misspellings)

Thanks to my big brother for his wonderful commentary and remembrances!

Happy Hunting!

Copyright © 2011 Regina De León. All rights reserved.
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