Saturday, August 25, 2012

   The news today of the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, really made me feel my age.
   I know precisely where I was on July 20, 1969, when Armstrong first stepped out of the lunar module: I was sprawled chin-in-hands on the living room floor of my then girlfriend, Nancy Johnson, watching the moment with the rest of her family.
   As a 17-year-old, I naturally had a lot more pressing things to worry about in my world. Nevertheless, the significance of the moment when he uttered the words "one giant leap for mankind" as he took that final step off the lunar module ladder onto the surface of the moon was not lost on me.
   After all, the space race had become headline news when I was a first grader in 1957 as the Russians beat us to the punch by launching Sputnik.
  On that fall evening in October, I can remember gathering outside with others in the neighborhood, hoping to catch a glimpse of it as it passed overhead in the starry sky.
  President John F.Kennedy gave his space race speech in 1961, offering the challenge to get a man to the moon by the end of the decade and the race to get there before the Ruskies was on.
  It was regular headline news in the Weekly Reader that our grade school teachers dutifully passed out to us each week.
  Looking back, it was all kind of amazing, certainly exciting.
  From rockets exploding on the launch pad, to the successful Mercury missions, then Gemini, and finally Apollo, it is remarkable that it took only eight short years to fulfill Kennedy's challenge.
 Truthfully, forays into orbit and near space became so routine that it all became kind of unremarkable.
  Certainly, there were set-backs, even a few tragedies where astronauts died. But the most part, the race to the moon was America's to win and measured mostly by forward progress.
  And the first moon landing was a defining moment for Americans and American technology.
  We, and much of the world, watched from living rooms, from bars, through department store windows, as the poor quality black-and-white video of Armstrong taking those first steps was beamed from the crescent moon a quarter-million miles away.
  It was a remarkable moment, but one that soon became routine as subsequent moon landings followed and even as video quality of astronauts cavorting on the moon _ taken as they golfed or drove a lunar rover _ improved.
  Manned moon exploration ended in 1972 and hardly anyone noticed. And then came the space shuttles which also quickly became routine until January, 1986, when the Challenger disaster reminded us of the peril of nibbling away at the edge of one of the last frontiers.
  In the 1960s, the space race made it easy to find heroes that didn't swing a bat, catch a pass, dribble a basketball.
  Neil Armstrong was one of those heroes.
  The is some truth to that old adage about being as old as you feel.
  And with Armstrong's passing, I, along with that old girlfriend, Nancy Johnson who now happens to be my wife for the last 39 years, just can't help but feel a little bit older at the news.


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