The Final Frontier

Watching the movie “First Man” yesterday about Neil Armstrong’s life, and about America putting men on the moon was a stark reminder of where we have been as a country, as opposed to where we are now.

The strength, resolve and focus that we had as a country to go to the moon…to beat the Russians in our space program, was something which inspired and united us as a people. I know there were a few detractors who protested about the money being spent on that program, and that protest was addressed in the movie.

Overall though, it was a matter of togetherness that included most Americans. Was there a black astronaut at first? A woman? No there was not. I do firmly believe however, that the overall encompassing reach of the program, on all levels…not just the men who composed the crews, led to more inclusion, faster than in other areas of our countries culture.

I know that as far as me personally, the space program was a part of my childhood, which I cannot separate from my psyche. It was an excitement, and an interest from the days of Sputnik and Telstar, all the way through the Mercury program, with pictures of Alan Shepherd and John Glenn taped to the headboard of my bed, right next to JFK’s and RFK’s. It continued through Gemini, with all its tragic deaths….finally into the Apollo program. My favorite photo of all time was from Apollo 8, the first photo of our beautiful blue marble hanging out there in space, like the last gorgeous ornament hanging lonely but divine on the tree being taken down from Christmas that year.

I think perhaps my somewhat obsessive need to photograph the moon, and watch the skies, stems from my childhood wonder with putting men into outer space.

Paula and I were more amazed than ever before about the ability of the scientific community to be able to propel what were essential well built metal “cans” into space, with high powered explosives to launch them, and not only keep the people in them alive, but eventually guide them to the moon. At one point in the film Armstrong was using a handheld geometric chart aboard Gemini 8, plotting lines to try and connect with another capsule with which they were supposed to dock. Computers were these huge and heavy refrigerator sized machines which contained barely a fraction of the computing power of even the earliest PC’s with the original version of Windows. Consider the following from Google:

“So when NASA astronauts rapidly approached the moon 50 years ago, a lot was riding on a computer with less than 80 kilobytes of memory. By today’s standards, it’s a dinosaur. The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) weighed 70 pounds. Programs were literally woven into the hardware by hand — it was called “core rope memory.”

What amazing devices of mechanical engineering were those early crafts. What focus and bravery, combined with a sublime curiosity, about pushing the boundaries and limits of mankind’s physicality and mentality to the limit of its endurance these people possessed. Amazing.

While the photos of all my childhood heroes are gone from the headboard of the bed, I still have a plate block of the Apollo 8 stamps which I bought at the West Georgia College Post Office in late May of 1969, before I headed home for the Summer to get married, and start a new kind of life. I remember well Paula and I sitting on Mom and Dad’s couch in the living room on July 20th and watching “the Eagle” land, and later hearing Neal Armstrong’s famous words. “That’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind”. But was it really?

I’m not sure what it would take to break America out of its current polarization and deep divisions. Something like putting a man on Mars? I wonder if even that would do it. I wonder at times if we were even as solid of a country back then like I thought we were, or if I was simply looking at the moon through rose colored glasses?

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