Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Giant Leap

Forty-five years ago today, a human being first set foot on another world. Some 600 million people on Earth were watching and listening as Neil Armstrong descended to the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 lunar lander, saying (in words slightly obscured by static) "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

 Those of us who were alive and old enough usually remember where we were. I was visiting Colorado, and had spent the afternoon in a car winding through the dry bare mountains near Denver, which seemed to me as desolate as a moonscape. Kathi, the driver, and my girlfriend Joni were from Denver and we were seeing the sights, but I remember that landscape (and possibly the thin air that I wasn't used to) just made me despondent.

 A few hours later we were in the basement rec room of Kathi's parents' house as we watched the ghostly image of Armstrong on the Moon. I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history. At the same time, that indistinct black and white image was a little like watching Captain Video on an early black and white television set when I was five or six.

 Years later the worlds of science fiction and factual history collided again at a Star Trek convention dinner. I stopped to speak to Nichelle Nichols at a table in the darkened ballroom when she said she wanted to introduce me to someone. From the seat next to her up popped a man in a suit holding out his hand--it was Neil Armstrong. I shook the hand of the first human to really touch another world. 

Earlier in this 45th anniversary year, MIT Press published Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I've posted a review of this book and further observations of this day on other sites.

As I wrote in that earlier post, humans rocketing into space was considered childish fantasy even as late as the 1950s.  Just a few years after Apollo 11, the  Apollo 17 astronauts left the Moon, and no human has returned.

Today we know that many things went wrong with technologies that we'd find laughably primitive in 2014 as the Eagle was trying to land on July 20, 1969. But somehow it did land, and that moment inspires awe even today. Perhaps even more so, since such a voyage has returned to the realm of fantasy, only with better visual effects.

1 comment:

Faye said...

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> I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history.

Yes, me, too. After years and years of following every tiny detail in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollos 7 through 10; it felt surrealistic, like a dream. It felt like me watching it was part of a TV show someone else was watching.

> Today we know that many things went wrong with technologies that we'd find laughably primitive in 2014 as the Eagle was trying to land on July 20, 1969.

Like what, Captain? The only thing that went wrong with 11 was that Armstrong forgot to turn off the docking radar, and when he turned on the landing radar too, the computer overloaded with a 1201 error.

Interestingly(?), 1201 was also the error code when the computer was overloaded in Andromeda Strain. Is that a coincidence?

One of countless things I'm sorry that I'll never know before I die.

1201 was also an error code in the original IBM PC BIOS post.
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Great site, BTW. It is high time someone paid attention to what Trek was all about—and it don't have sh it to do with Starfleet timelines or warp core antimatter injectors.

-faye kane ♀ girl brain
Sexiest astrophysicist you'll ever see naked