Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years Ago

Got this in the paper the morning to mark the fortieth anniversary of the first moon landing. Its a reprint of The Dominion's edition for that day.
There is a copy of the original at my parents place. Strange to think that this era defining event occured the better part of half a century ago. Strange also to think this was only seven years before I was born. The last moon landing occured less than four years before I was born. The whole Apollo programme now feels like the last dramatic expression of the technological idealism and innocence that marked the immediate post war era. Nothing in manned spaceflight since has even come close to inspiring the imagination the way Apollo did.
I have been interested in this for as long as I can remember. I grew up poring over the images of dusty astronauts exploring an alien terrain, and I still have the capacity to gaze at them in awe and wonder. Given the chance to time travel, high on the list would be viewing a Saturn V launch. Seeing a contraption the size of the aerial on Mt Kaukau launch itself into the sky alas is something I can only imagine and watch on video. I even have a favourite era of Apollo exploration. The first couple of missions were little more than proof of concept day stays; the first moonwalk lasted only two and a half hours. The later missions after Apollo 13 are much more interesting to me, with mulitple moonwalks lasting hours on end, with the lander remaining on the surface for up to three days, a rover to extend the astronauts reach, and real science being performed. While the historical focus is on the first landing, its easy to forget that there were five others, equally as successful, and equally as dangerous.
In the glory days of 1969, it felt like the start of a new era, which ultimately never came to pass, which is often the way of history. If the sixties were the party, the seventies were the hangover, and there were other and better things to do than build on Apollo's foundation. Rightly or wrongly, NASA is now a pale shadow of the organisation that put men on the moon. The sixties kids had the dramatic Apollo moon rocket as the spacecraft of their generation. Us seventies kids got the much more sensible and grown up Space Shuttle (itself now nearing retirement after 28 years of service). While I missed seeing any of the moon missions as they happened, I do remember a dark early morning in 1981 watching on live television the Columbia land after the first space shuttle flight into orbit. If the chance materialises to get to Florida for one of the few remaining Shuttle launches I'm there. And I still want to grow up to be an Astronaut.
P.S. Don't even get me started on the whole hoax/conspiracy thing. Thats a whole other post / rant in itself. It's depressing and frustrating that the idea has gained enough currency that it can be a topic of serious discussion, or failing that, being the question of the day to breakfast radio callers like I heard this morning. Its the ignorance posing as fact that both annoys and dismays me. The idea is simply not credible, let alone plausible. And the 'evidence' just isnt.


stretch said...

I've been wondering - why are they making a big deal out of the 40th anniversary? Usually it's the 25th or 50th that gets all the attention...

Not Kate said...

One of the kids in my class reckoned NASA just needs to get good press every now and then (to justify their existence)... maybe they've engineered the PR and nostagia trip.

I was in Florida when some space thing was being launched (early 1995 or late 1994). Didn't bother going right to the base to see it, but might've caught it in the sky from wherever we were (Disney World or something).

Dan said...

We did the space centre in Florida in 2003. The buildings are huge, and all the old launch pads are still there.

Very impressive. didn't see anything launch, but it was still pretty cool.