Anyone who remembers watching the Apollo 11 moon landing in living black-and-white is probably (probably?) at least a little excited about the 50th anniversary and has seen some of the coverage commemorating the actual leaping event, President Kennedy’s charging “we choose to go to the moon” declaration, and the intense determination of those employed within the U.S. space program. I’ll admit I’m one of those people.
Of course, those who happily recall that giant leap for mankind have their own set of memories of that time. While I was but an elementary school kid in 1969, I remember my parents preferred the coverage of ABC’s Jules Bergman to that of Walter Cronkite. That may have been because my mother liked a young and dashing Peter Jennings occasionally appearing on that network’s evening news. My father thought Bergman presented a much more scientific interpretation of matters. I remember reading in the Milwaukee Journal (I was a news person even then) about the incredible importance of the space program to the Milwaukee area since Apollo 11’s guidance system was developed in large part at Delco Electronics in my hometown of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Beyond that, I know I wanted to drink a lot of Tang, even though my mother said frozen concentrated orange juice was more nutritious.
Gathering to watch something hopeful
The tang of Tang aside, I think one reason so many of us are traveling back to that long-ago day is not just to once again see two men in chubby spacesuits hurtle about lunar craters but to remember a time when most of the world’s people who could afford television actually gathered. To watch something hopeful. To witness tremendous human achievement. To take a break from misery such as the Vietnam War and the nightmare that was the previous year of 1968. To be happy. And even excited.
While watching several of the commemorative documentaries (including “Chasing the Moon” on PBS and “Apollo: Missions to the Moon” on National Geographic), I noted a lot of things, including the idea that people who were the age my parents were at the time were wearing miniskirts and bell bottoms, clothing that not that many years earlier might have been thought unseemly for respectable parents of young children. But what I thought about most was how it would be nearly impossible for anything of this sort of glorious magnitude to be accomplished in our current time. I know I’m not the only person to make this observation.
We’ve certainly witnessed events since 1969 that have mesmerized the entire world, though many of them were quite sad affairs (e.g., the Watergate hearings, the 1986 Challenger disaster, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., the 2000 U.S. presidential election, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks) or turned out to be sad affairs (the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer). What we’ve not experienced during the past half century is much intense global joy. And in a day when people are kept in detention wrapped in not-quite-space-age silver covers, members of Congress can’t work together or, in the case of some, are told to leave this country, too many school children can never expect to obtain the knowledge necessary to even dream about working on space exploration, and fires, floods, droughts, and hurricanes harshly remind us of the climate change some refuse to acknowledge, the thought that something like a voyage to the moon could even get funding seems as wild as a moon landing could have sounded to many during the depths of the Great Depression.
Daring to dream
So, for a whole lot of us, this anniversary coverage showing us a world possessing more hope, a world where those who dared to dream of majestic things couldn’t be insulted on social media, are as good or better of a soothing balm than several cocktails could ever deliver. When I watched these programs I thought, my God, how did we get from such possibility to where we are today (even while considering real progress in areas such as same-sex marriage)? How did it happen? And then, I thought, no, I know how it happened. But why? Such answers are ours to discover. If we ever choose to do so.
While indulging in remembrances of a time I wish I knew better, I also watched the 2000 movie “The Dish,” an often very funny story of the people of Parkes, Australia, and their radio telescope which was critically involved in transmitting television pictures of the Apollo 11 landing. One scene makes me both laugh and feel bad. It involves the town’s mayor talking to a pub proprietor and her delight in relating the story of an American NASA official stopping in the place and (of all things) “wanting pretzels.” To which the mayor responds: “Yep. It’s a world event!”
May we remember this world event, whether we actually remember it or not. And may we someday have cause to experience another world event on the same scale of wonder and joy.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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