Thursday, July 20, 2017

July 20th - Space Exploration Day

July 20th is one of those landmark days on my Calendar.  It is perhaps the most important day for space exploration.  On this day in 1969, 48 years ago today, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and the first humans ever walked on the Moon that night.  41 years ago today, the Viking 1 lander touched down on Mars and returned the first pictures of the surface of the Red Planet.  Both those events, especially Apollo 11, had a huge impact on my future.  The impossible was suddenly possible!

On July 20, 1969, my Dad was stationed in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan in the upper peninsula.  We traveled that day down to Kincheloe Air Force Base (named after another pilot, Ivan Kincheloe, but I did not know anything about him at that time) to shop at the commisary there on base.  We also stopped at some friends where, early in the afternoon, we watched the live TV coverage of the landing of Apollo 11 at Tranquility Base.  They would have had live audio from the landing, but no live video, so everything they showed besides the newsmen were mock-ups and models of what was going on.  I was a month and 2 days short of my 9th birthday and was definitely interested in the space program.  But I did not understand the significance of things like 1201 and 1202 alarms.  I did understand the significance of "Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed."

We went back home that afternoon and that evening, I got to stay up late for one of the very first times.  They moved the Moonwalk up in time a few hours, but then it took Neil and Buzz a long time to get ready to climb out of their Lunar Module.  While we waited for the Moonwalk to begin, we stepped outside for a bit and I looked up at the nearly quarter phased Moon overhead.  As I gazed on the Moon this night, it was a very different Moon from the one I'd looked at on previous nights.  Tonight, there were 2 men actually on the Moon and another orbiting around it.  What a life changing thought this 8 year old experienced in that moment.

Back inside and watching the TV, the astronauts were finally ready to begin their historic Moonwalk.  Talk of depressurizing the cabin and finally the hatch is open!  Listening to the crew talk as Aldrin helped direct Armstrong through the hatch only made the wait longer as I certainly did not understand the details of what they were doing.  On TV, all they could do was show a suited actor climbing on the ladder of the LM mockup as we waited for the live TV we were told would be broadcast from the Moon.  Finally, Armstrong announced: "Okay. Houston, I'm on the porch."  The porch I can understand, right at the top of the ladder.

Armstrong finally releases the MESA, pulling a D-ring to release it.  The MESA unfolds from the side of the Lunar Module just to the left of the ladder (as viewed from the front of the LM) and contains equipment like the rock boxes that will bring Lunar samples back to Earth.  It also has the TV camera mounted on it and shortly, the first TV signal will be sent back to Earth and broadcast live to something like 1 billion viewers back on planet Earth.

I wasn't sure if the fuzzy black and white image that soon appeared was due to our old Zenith black and white TV or because the signal was coming from a quarter million miles away.  I sat transfixed, watching Neil and Buzz as they spent a little over 2 hours on the Lunar surface.  Their almost ghostly images bounding across the field of view were so fascinating to watch.  And then it was over.  Well, except for their return to Earth, which happily was finished safely.

My life was forever changed on July 20, 1969.  My Universe expanded beyond my own horizons.  Thank you Neil and Buzz and Mike.  Thank you to all those who made Apollo happen and made the impossible possible.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home