Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years Ago

Here's what I remember of July 20, 1969:

My parents invited my grandparents over for the evening to watch the moon landing, because we had a better TV. My grandfather came reluctantly. It was always his contention that the space program was a waste of the tax-payer's money. However, my grandmother talked him into coming.

We all, parents, grandparents, sisters, and myself, gathered in the family room. Of course, watching space launches and capsule reentries always meant waiting through a lot of NASA rigamarole that I didn't understand, and there was a long lead-up to the actual event. We filled the time with hopping up and down to make popcorn and other snacks. Eventually, we could see the actual live footage from the lunar module itself as it eased down, down, down to the surface of the brightly sunlit, but lifeless, moon. Just thinking about the transmission of the images, coming from 3,000+ miles away, through the airless void of space and the layers of the atmosphere I had learned about in school, had us marveling and exclaiming to each other.

We perhaps had not realized we were holding our breath until the module was safely down, unscathed. It could have crashed, but it didn't. The video transmission could have fritzed out, but it didn't.

And then, a fuzzy image of a bulky figure could be seen descending slowly down a little ladder. He put his foot down, causing a small puff of dust, and his muffled voice, coming from the moon, said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I remember that the astronauts behaved a little like kids as they muddled about in their awkward suits on the surface of the moon. I remember recognizing the joy and excitement in their voices, seeing them playfully bound around in the lower gravity. They made footprints in the moon dust, just as I did in winter when there was a fresh snow. I remember thinking that it was both exciting and sad that their footprints would never go away, never be muted by rain or wind.

At one point, late in the evening, I got up from where I was sitting cross legged on the floor, and went out the door into our backyard. I looked up at the moon in the sky. Alone, I stood there, staring, knowing that the distance was too great, but wishing none-the-less that I could somehow see something on the face of the moon. Somewhere up there, gamboling like children, were two men who were the very first humans to set foot on any heavenly orb but our own. I stood there a long time.

It was a long evening, and, unlike the adults in the room, I was less concerned about lifting off the moon and reconnecting for the journey home. The dangers were a little beyond me.

I went to bed thinking about the serious, scientific astronauts frisking like children. I thought about the footprints. Though I understood it but dimly, the universe had shifted just a bit that night.


Green Bean said...

That's lovely, Joyce. It happened before my time - just barely - but my parents tell a similar story. Thanks for sharing.

Donna said...

Thanks for sharing. I know I watched lunar landings, but I was a little too young to really remember. I'm not sure if I saw the first one or not. Enjoyed your remininces.

Rose said...

I remember very well where I was 40 years ago today--I was with my boyfriend, soon-to-be-husband, and we listened to it on the radio. I'm not sure why we didn't watch it on television...

I also remember watching the first US manned spaceflight with Alan Shepherd and then John Glenn's orbit of the earth. I was in grade school at the time, and we were in awe as we watched the rockets launch. I don't think younger generations realize what a fantastic event those first space trips were at that time.

Joyce said...

Thinking back, I think the three stand-out historical events of my life so far have been the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 9-11. Everything else sort of pales by comparison.

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