A true American hero died this weekend. There really aren’t very many and all the NASA astronauts definitely make the grade for me. I still remember sitting in the living room as they maneuvered the Lunar Lander down onto the moon. I remember how worried people were about the lander sinking in the moon dust because no one knew what would happen. It seems silly after the fact but I remember how tense it was when we watched the landing with Walter Cronkite.
I remember how tense it was as Neil Armstrong went down the ladder and made that first footprint. Now so many years later it’s easy to forget how dramatic it all was and the fear that we had for Buzz and Neil. Now it seems so easy. It wasn’t, the computers they used were as big as refrigerators and took up huge rooms. Your smart phone has more memory than the computers they used.
Space was still a huge adventure and it was exciting and it brought us many things we don’t think about now besides Tang. Your microwave, scratch-proof eyeglasses, telemetry for monitoring systems and your health, GPS, Ziploc baggies, your insulated lunchbag, remote controls, coatings like Teflon came from projects for space, if you have a tempurpedic bed or pillow all came from space projects.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins changed history when they made history. Collins and Aldrin are also in their 80’s and the world has changed a lot since they went on their epic journey 43 years ago when kids like me sat on their living room floor watching a grainy black and white image and held our breaths and hoped everything would go alright. The control room then was full of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties and regulation hair cuts.
Now we watch geeky young men AND women in polo shirts dance around a control room because a black and white image comes from even farther, Mars. Somewhere there is a kid sitting on the living room floor or at their computer or on their smart phone dreaming of space. Will they be able to follow their dreams too?