I was 15 years old and lived near Chicago on the night Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon. The Vietnam War and civil unrest made it an angry time. Being a teenager, I argued with my parents about everything including the war. Apollo 11 felt like a cease fire. A moment to take a breath and stop tearing ourselves apart. The success of the mission proved that we still had the capacity to work together and do good.
The night of July 20th I stole away in the basement and watched the historic first steps on a black-and-white TV perched atop a roller cart. Always one to document things, a habit started in childhood, I loaded a roll of Tri-X into my Argus C3 camera, and attached it to a tripod. As Neil walked down the ladder I recorded the “breaking news” in frame after frame of grainy black-and-whiteness.
I wish I could remember what I was thinking at the time. I only recall the excitement I felt that we’d finally made it. Fear of falling behind in the space race may have been the primary motivation for the program, but like many great undertakings Apollo grew beyond its original intentions. Not only did we learn much about the geological history of the moon including its likely origin in a devastating Earth impact, but seeing Earth floating in space impressed the astronauts — and by extension us — with the planet’s fragility.
Earth is a raft afloat in fathomless blackness unconcerned if we live or perish. We find purpose by appreciating and protecting our home. Apollo helped to inspire this big-hearted planetary perspective and continues to give us hope that we can do great things if set aside quibbles and put our heads together.
I’m a big fan of walking in moonlight. I not only think more clearly but find the quiet time I need to say thanks for this one life. Tonight’s waning gibbous moon rises a little after 11 o’clock local time in the constellation Aquarius. The Sea of Tranquility and Apollo 11 landing site will be in view along the moon’s upper right side. I’m thinking a little 50th anniversary stroll might be in order.
If you’re in the mood for looking at photos, NASA just released nearly 16,000 high resolution images from the Apollo missions. Check out the Project Apollo Archive. Other links: