I used to be a huge space geek. Really huge. Big fan of the American space program from Alan Shepard through even Skylab 3 or, heck, let’s throw in Apollo-Soyuz.
Mostly though it was the Apollo program. Men on the Moon. Men on the Moon! As in the Onion headline from July 21, 1969 — Holy Shit: Man Walks on Fucking Moon.
I worked back in the early nineties for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, but I wasn’t yet space geek boy then. A shame, really. I even met Buzz Aldrin at the annual meeting in 1991. I shook his hand, but I was utterly speechless.
It was a couple of years later, while I was working at the help desk for Crown Books. We were in Landover MD but we got calls from stores all over the country. California stores closed as late as ten p.m. Pacific time, so we worked for an hour after that, which was two a.m. Eastern. Some late nights, many of them pretty boring, is what the point is.
But it was a bookstore company, so there were books around. We had under this one unused desk a box of books, returns or something, that we used for testing inventory and scan wands and whatever. One of the books was a paperback copy of Carrying the Fire by Mike Collins, command module pilot on Apollo 11. I started reading it one night for no good reason and just caught the bug right there.
I went on to read a ton of stuff, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and Apollo by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox being the best, but hell I even found me and read an old beat up copy of Jim Irwin’s autobiography from a used bookstore in Atlanta. I had a pretty decent space library for a while, maybe a couple dozen books.
All that’s long gone now, except for a little vague knowledge of astronomy that can still pop into my mind on a cold winter night, and I can help you find Aldeberan, although sadly I no longer know which in Ursa Major is Merak, Alcor, Mizar, or Dubhe.
On July 20, 1969, I remember being at my grandparents’ house, watching the events in snowy black and white on the TV. It must have been much later than I was used to being awake, after eleven p.m. local time, and I was all of five years old. I don’t remember watching much, or for very long. Mostly I remember running back and forth between the living room and what we called the rumpus room. But I know that I watched some of the space stuff.
Neil Armstrong screwed up his famous words, when he stepped off the ladder and on to the surface. He meant to say that it was a small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. Makes much more sense that way. The way he actually said it always confused me as a kid.
I love the exploration aspect of our space programs. I can take or leave the science of it, although I suppose that’s the best excuse for it really. I don’t care that we beat the Soviets to the Moon. (And then they said that they weren’t really trying, and don’t you believe them.) None of that rah rah patriotism for me. Mike Collins in his book talks about how he travelled the world after coming back and everywhere he went people would talk about how “we,” as in humans, went to the Moon. Not just America, but all of us.
I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see us get to Mars. I love those little rovers they send up there, though. That’ll do for now.
Happy Moon Landing Day, everybody.