Forty years ago today, a famous rocket called Apollo 11 was hurtling its way through empty space towards the single-most object of man’s obsession, fantasy and the hugest of expectations.
The whole world then, was watching keenly for that moment when man would conquer the moon, supposedly.
It was a culmination of a high-scales cold war competition between the United States on one side, and the Soviet Union, which had beaten their foes earlier by sending the first man to space in 1957.
Most of us were not born, but the moment Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and said those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”, that moment became immortalized from newspapers to history books and finally into lower primary textbooks.
That moment summarized man’s love affair with that round obscure object in the sky that some have worshipped, others have used as a compass, or has been the light that has lit the faces of hesitant lovers in the small hours of their ideal nights.
Forty years later it is difficult to capture that moment now that in astronomy terms, the moon is almost a discovered neighborhood that almost nobody except the science nerds want to go to.
It’s the rocky dull surface of the moon, without any hints of life or water, and a sixth of the earth’s force of gravity which makes a trip to the moon perhaps one of the only worthwhile experiences.
That makes an improbable manned journey to the planetary neighbor of Mars providing more allure to the scientist and the ordinary global citizen wondering who else might be there in this wide expansive universe.
The Apollo project that cost colossal sums of American money and ambition may have been an affront to the supposed soviet superiority in space technology but as it turned out, the project seventeen trips redefined man’s ability to conquer the outer world. During Apollo 8, man for the first time saw the earth the way God would have seen it after the sixth day, a beautiful blue orb, with the oceans marked out from the lands, the clouds lightly masking down the ground.
Then the image of the earth from the sky the way we seem the moon form the earth was unknown. But it was Apollo 12 on July 20th 1969 when the late president John F. Kennedy’s words eight year earlier finally made meaning.
“We want to go the moon, and do the other things, not because it is easy but because it is hard.”
On that fateful July morning, forty years to tomorrow man watched on black and white television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did the first real moon walk, relaying their first hand experiences, almost one and a half seconds later that sound waves needed to travel 238,000 miles from the moon to the earth, like excited kids on their first day at school.
“The surface is fine and powdery,” Armstrong said through his radio. “It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the soles and sides of my boots.
I only go in a fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch. But I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.
” The narrative may have not been as interesting, perhaps duller that a cheap romantic thriller, but the implication of man, and his awe for the heavens above the earth, suddenly shattered by man’s journey to an object other than earth was good enough.
Today, going to the moon let alone to space may not be a ground breaking achievement for man. We send text messages and watch cable televisions transmitted on countless satellites all orbiting the earth like tiny moons.
A journey to space can cost a fee even if it is an obscene twenty million US dollars that the Russians take to satisfy any hungry individual’s thirst for a personal space odyssey.
Europeans have contributed to the international space station construction along with the Americans and Russians now that the cold war is no longer and even the Chinese and Japanese have joined the space going party.
The Russians gave us cosmonauts, the Americans astronauts and the Chinese want to give us taikonauts.
Most importantly the original moon walk gave children in those times the opportunity to dream.
Good kids wanted to be doctors and engineers. Smart kids wanted to be pilots and wannabe space nerds or the really ambitious kids did want to fly to the moon.
For those kids whose dream was going to the moon, President’s Kennedy’s promise to send man to the moon in 1961 “before the end of the decade” was enough.