Sunday, July 12, 2009
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Our community is celebrating that great achievement for the next couple of weeks. Last night my husband and I along with many aerospace folk gathered at the University of Houston/Clear Lake to hear former flight director, Glenn Lunney, speak and to view the documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon. It was an emotional evening for many of us as we viewed John Kennedy's wonderful speech that set in motion our visit to the moon followed by recent interviews of the astronauts that made the trip. It was interesting to hear them speak of their experiences now in reflection 40 years later. At the time they were involved, they were too busy with the technical decisions and mechanics to spend much time in reflection but now several of them related what a spiritual experience it was for them. Ed Mitchell went on to go on a spiritual journey to find the actual remains of Noah's ark. Mike Collins talked of his epiphany spiritual experience. I do recommend the film as it is out on DVD.
Many of these astronauts were our neighbors, most lived on our street or around the corner. I became overcome with sadness and teary watching the prologue of the terrible fire that claimed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. I recall when we got the news. We were on our way to downtown Houston's medical center to visit a friend who had just had a baby when the news came over the radio. We were shocked and what should have been a joyous visit had quite a pall over it. It drove home how incredibly dangerous the mission was and how brave were the men who chose the journey. Roger and his family were our neighbors in the next block and by the time we got back to our neighborhood the media was camped in his front yard. Our children were so young they have no memory of this but I will remind them to watch the movie as the whole program was a major part of our lives.
When Apollo 13 got in trouble, my husband was called in to help with the guidance system that he had designed to help them get back down in the lunar landing module. It was a close call and very scary.
I remember when the first man orbited the moon before anyone actually landed. It was Christmas Eve and friends including astronaut Al Worden, his wife, Pam and their girls. We had the TV on and gathered to hold our breath as the astronaut finally came around from the back side of the moon and we all gave a huge sigh of relief when he reported in.
At the first lunar landing, Mike Collins as commander stayed in the capsule while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder to plant the US flag on the moon. Buzz and my husband are still in touch as both are still active in space development. Buzz is 80 now and my husband, Ken, 78 and it is remarkable that they both still have the enthusiasm and excitement about their work that they had more than 40 years ago. Neil Armstrong keeps a very low profile and always has so was not part of the interviews.
Looking back I am amazed at how ordinary we thought our lives were at the time and now realize how extraordinary it was and is to be part of that era in our country's development. I am grateful that there was that opportunity for very young men, some in their twenties, others in their thirties when it began, to courageously step into the unknown, not just as astronauts but as engineers, technicians trying something that had never been done before. Awesome!