Forty-five years ago today, we landed on the moon.
Let that sink in for a moment. We landed. On. The. Moon.
Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins took off from Cape Canaveral on July 16 heading for the moon, fulfilling President John F. Kennedy’s promise to have us land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Sadly, I wasn’t around to witness this feat in person. I missed it by seven years. Nevertheless, that moment must have had an impact on my life. I’m sure things like Star Wars and Star Trek probably added fuel to the fire.
By the time I hit school, the Space Shuttle was off…into orbit around the Earth. OK, that doesn’t sound very exciting, but I’m sure they must’ve done some cool experiments and such.
In the third grade (or maybe it was the fifth grade; my mind’s a bit hazy on this), I became a member of the Young Astronauts. Maybe I thought this would be my one-way ticket to jumping into the shuttle and heading off to distant galaxies. It didn’t quite work out that way.
When the Transformers were overtaking the airwaves, probably around fourth grade, I came up with the brilliant idea of making a group of Autobots into space shuttles, who could then turn into this giant robot combiner. They were all named after the shuttles at the time; don’t remember what I called the big robot.
Sadly, this was the same school year when Challenger exploded not too long after takeoff. I don’t remember seeing the launch live at school, only hearing it offhand from the others. I couldn’t believe it. Something like that couldn’t possibly happen. When I got home from school, that was all anybody on TV was talking about. I had homework, but I talked my parents into me doing my homework in front of the TV. I was devastated. The nation was devastated.
I don’t know if seeing that affected any decision of my kid-sized brain to becoming an astronaut, but it probably had a big impact. Nevertheless, I was crossing my fingers when NASA did send a space shuttle back up into orbit two years later. Maybe my propensity for math wasn’t that great, which is why I went into journalism.
Going into my college years, on the Fourth of July in 1997, Pathfinder landed on Mars and sent back some pictures of the Red Planet. I was gobsmacked. I felt like that kid again.
You’d think that because I’m a native Floridian I would have visited Kennedy Space Center more often, but I never set foot on the grounds. I corrected that oversight when my dad took me and two relatives down to the visitor’s center on New Year’s Day. The kid in me was back in full force, seeing that ginormous Saturn V rocket going and going and going down the massive hallway.
In 2003, the unthinkable happened again. This time it was Columbia. I was out covering an event for the newspaper I work for when someone said that Columbia blew up. At first I thought it was a sick joke, but when I got back to the office, I found out it did happen. I think I had to stay in reporter mode to come up with local reaction to the tragedy.
Thankfully, the tragedies have been outnumbered by the successes, including a plucky rover named Curiosity. When Curiosity was approaching Mars, I was asleep, but I had to get up early to drive to my parents’ home. I turned on the TV, scanning the channels for any mention of the mission. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the scientists cheering beyond belief that Curiosity landed.
In addition to this, I recently discovered Neil deGrasse Tyson’s excellent podcast, StarTalk Radio, as well as podcasts from the Planetary Society. I jumped over the moon when I learned Tyson was going to host a new Cosmos series (I don’t believe I ever saw Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos when it came out). I enjoyed every episode in the series. You can see Tyson’s enthusiasm for the cosmos ooze onto the screen, and it’s infectious.
I don’t know if I will ever see manned interstellar flight in my lifetime, but maybe my children could see it. For now, I’ll settle for creating these voyages in my fiction and living vicariously through the astronauts on the International Space Station or the scientists working on the Mars rovers. Now, if the Vulcans do show up in the next 40 years, watch out….
I hope to go back to KSC one day and show my kids these wonders. Maybe it will inspire them to reach for the stars. What I can do in the meantime is point to the full moon and tell them that people walked there, then find Mars in the night sky and say we’re hoping to go there next.