Tyrades! Houston, The Column Has Landed

Friday, July 17, 2009

Various terrestrial distractions may have made you overlook it, but July 20 marks the 40th anniversary of man's first walk on the moon.

A magazine article from four decades ago predicted that the Apollo 11 astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins) would be the most celebrated explorers in history. Indeed, a typical present-day teen can be expected to gush, "Armstrong? You mean he pedaled his bicycle to the moon?" At least we'll always have Armstrong's unforgettable first words upon climbing down the ladder: "I weigh only 30 pounds -- without one trip to Subway! In your face, Jared!"

The moon-landing project cost $25 billion. When President Kennedy announced his aspirations of sending humans to the moon, it warranted a major speech before a joint session of Congress. Today, when President Obama wants to spend $25 billion, it's more like an afterthought. ("Since you're getting up, anyway, would you mind...?")

Things have really changed since President Kennedy's idealistic 1962 speech at Rice University about the space program. Nowadays we're more likely to hear political statements such as "We choose to put Al Franken in the Minnesota Senate seat, not because it's easy, but because it's hard to get a filibuster-proof Senate."

According to Wikipedia, at its peak the Apollo project employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities. Just think if Neil Armstrong had a 2009 mentality and decided to quit halfway to the moon. ("By golly, I think we can find better ways to serve America, hunting caribou or something. Let's turn this rig around and hightail it for home, Buzz.")

Everyone should make a visit to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. to see the Apollo 11 command module and other mementoes of aeronautics. The museum is a tribute to those who soar like birds and reach for the stars. It's next door to the Paparazzi Museum, dedicated to the people who slither like reptiles and PHOTOGRAPH the stars.

While researching this column, I borrowed my mother's copy of the July 4, 1969, Life magazine, a special "Off To The Moon" issue. Along with profiles of the Apollo 11 crew and a message from aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, it contains a lament that NASA was ruining the romance and mystique of the old "green cheese/weird lunar creatures/cow jumped over the" moon.

Yes, we really had fanciful ideas about the earth's natural satellite. One of my father's acquaintances questioned the wisdom of the whole Apollo endeavor. While driving along listening to radio coverage of the landing, he grumbled "We don't have any idea what the moon is made of. For all we know, it could explode when we land on it."

As coincidence would have it, at that instant a burst of static hit the radio. Thinking the moon had exploded, he nearly wrecked the car.

That's the sort of incident most of us would have kept to ourselves. He should at least have worked up a better cover story. ("What? Did I really make a complete fool of myself while driving? Of course not. We...uh...just faked that and filmed it out in the desert somewhere. Yeah, that's the ticket.")

Note: Danny Tyree wishes well for the ailing Walter Cronkite, whose Apollo 11 coverage kept him enthralled many moons ago.