When I was a kid I thought a lot about the moon. We were in a space race with the Russians, those evil communists, who wanted to plant their hammer and sickle flag right in the Man in the Moon’s left nostril and declare the entire celestial body a Soviet worker’s paradise. Thanks to the vision and leadership of John F. Kennedy and the incredible scientific ability of Wernher Von Braun — and a lot of other ex-Nazis who the U.S. commandeered after WWII before the Soviets could grab them — we were able to land our own Wapakoneta, Ohio hero, Neil Armstrong, to take that small step for man, instead of a giant leap for the commies.
Back in the 60s, from the time that I was five until Col. Armstrong landed just before my 14th birthday, we followed every space launch, success and failure. We used to watch them live on our old black and white TVs. Back then everything was in black and white. We even dreamed in black and white. We dressed in black jeans and white t-shirts, except for special occasions, when we might wear black dress pants with a white shirt and black tie. Our good shoes were black, our everyday tennis shoes white. Even the moon had a light and dark side. The good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore black.
We watched those astronauts moving awkwardly in their funny space suits, being shot out into a place where we were told there was no air, or water. They were completely self-contained, taking everything with them to survive the journey. Their tiny little capsule included Tang, the orange drink of outer space, and freeze-dried ice cream, which for a while became all the rage, along with Space Food Sticks, and Kaboom cereal. At the beginning of each launch there was an exciting countdown, which we would join in at T-minus 10 seconds and counting. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 BLAST OFF! Those guys sat at the top of a giant firecracker and someone down at the bottom lit the fuse. After a slow few seconds where you wondered if it would blow up on the launch pad, as we had seen numerous rockets do before, it slowly accelerated until it was zooming into the stratosphere. We at home, or in school, glued to our little black and white sets would cheer and the white-suited heroes would be off for another outer space adventure.
Each launch, each mission brought us closer to the ultimate goal, landing a man on the moon. This was our collective dream, the collective hope for our nation and mankind, that we would become the first species in the 4-billion-year history of our planet to not only escape from its gravity but to find out whether the moon was really made of cheddar cheese, or swiss.
The whole world was watching on that July night in 1969 when our American adventurers landed their lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the original Buzz Lightyear, rested for a while and then made their historic walk, broadcast live to an adoring and amazed audience throughout the world. They were heroes and America was the undisputed leader of the world. We were technologically advanced, scientifically enlightened, determined to pursue the greater good for the betterment of our species. We had reached beyond war, poverty, hatred, and strife to pursue the goal of exploration, to literally begin to reach for the stars.
Then we got bored with the whole thing. Moon exploration became just another game to play. We were actually a little more excited by the saga of unlucky Apollo 13, the failed mission, which almost blew up and killed the astronauts aboard, than we were about Apollo 14, 15, and who even remembers how many more launches that continued to land men on the moon to putter around playing golf and collecting more rocks to bring home and stick in the dusty corner of a lab or museum somewhere. Funding was cut and missions were cancelled, so we could focus our attention on more earthly problems, like invading Cambodia, and furnishing our apartments with bean bag chairs and leaky waterbeds.
Today the world is in full living color, and most people can watch the latest earth-shattering events on the little screens that they carry in their pockets, each of which has far more computing power than Apollo 11 had in its entire capsule. With the technology and advanced knowledge now available we should each be capable of our own moon landing, and so much more. I’m certain there are kids today dreaming up the next giant leap for mankind, probably far beyond the imagining of my black and white minded generation. Artificial intelligence, unlimited clean energy, time travel, or who knows, maybe even chocolate bars that reverse the effects of aging. The sky’s the limit. I can’t wait to join in the holographic four-dimensional countdown for the pioneers of the future.