20 July 2012

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

I was one of those kids.

The kind from the 60s where rockets and spaceships and astronauts were the coolest thing imaginable. Where every trip to the local Gulf gas station meant an opportunity to claim yet one more NASA-themed collectible: some toy rocket, or pamphlet on spaceflight, or poster about the moon. I drank Tang, because that's what we were going to drink when we traveled to the Moon and Mars and beyond. I had a plush toy Snoopy doll in a NASA suit, complete with oxygen umbilical and "Snoopy" flight cap. I could at a glance tell you the specific differences between all the rockets in the US inventory. I dazzled at the wild artist conceptions of the mighty von Braun-esque winged spaceships depicted in our old encyclopedias.

And on July 20, 1969, I sat there in slack-jawed amazement as every fantastic imagination became a little less fantastic and suddenly a lot more possible as we, the people of Earth, watched one of our own step out for the first time onto the surface of another world.

To kids today, it's difficult to fully explain the monumental sea-change that event represented. We've walked on another world.

Never again could our species say "this planet is the limit of our reach." Never again would a child be born into a world where men had not traveled through the deathly empty black of space to leave prints on the face of that white disk smiling down at us from the night sky since our first ancestors looked up.

From now on, the sky is no longer the limit. From now on, there are no limits.


Somehow, in the intervening decades, we've lost that feeling. Instead of a world where we might achieve any goal if we set our collective will to it, we bemoan all those things we accept as somehow beyond our control.

The planet is warming. The oceans are dying. Our institutions are failing. Our leaders are corrupt, our favorite foods are killing us, pointless wars and fighting seem to be escalating wherever we look.

And still the Moon smiles down at us, amused at our petty worries and distractions.

Remember me? You used to find me so amazing -- so tantalizing. Now... you stare at your feet and mumble about how far you've sunk.

I liked looking up and wondering what miracles I might see in my future. I liked it a lot. And I miss that feeling.

And so, to the men and women of the Apollo program, on the occasion of the anniversary of quite possibly the Coolest Moment Man Has Yet Managed, a geeky red-headed kid from the 60s again says "thank you."

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