This day is far removed from another in the last year of the turbulent 1960’s. A great man’s passing has reminded of the first lunar landing. I was thirteen years old, recording it with a portable reel-to-reel while lying on the floor in front of the family’s Admiral color TV set. No one was allowed to talk, of course. In fact, I think I recorded just about the entire mission. I’m not sure what happened to those tapes. I know there are better copies of Walter Cronkite‘s marathon coverage of the events, back when the space program was a big story. In those days, astronauts’ daring efforts inspired the networks to spend more than a brief sound byte of coverage.
I recall staying up late to watch the live coverage. When Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon, everyone was watching the set. It was an awful, overexposed, shadowy black-and-white image broadcast from 250,000 miles away. It took a while before NASA technicians realized the image was upside-down and flipped it in time for the world to witness Armstrong’s descent of the Lunar Excursion Module‘s ladder. The audio of the often replayed first words was garbled because of over-modulation or exhaling into a microphone – I’m not sure which. It’s somewhat ironic that some of the most famous words ever spoken in the history of the world were at first unintelligible and were not uttered on this world at all.
Neil Armstrong’s final departure from Earthly bonds comes at another turbulent time. In sharp contrast to the way the man led a life of modest dignity, we are reminded how famous he became for a brief span. At the end of a decade of dramatic change, incredible tragedy and breathtaking technological achievement, there was hope for us all. With his passing, we’re also reminded of the mortality of those whose accomplishments take on certain immortality apart from the person.
There are increasingly fewer of us whose memories can serve as direct bridges to that past. As unimaginable as it may seem, the entire nation, along with much of the world, was together that one day in late July 1969. Two homo sapiens from a small planet called Earth dared live the dreams and aspirations of everyone they left at home. Bravely, they took the bold first steps and left footprints in the eternal dust of the Moon. They expressed on our behalf that sometimes humans can be a very creative and determined species.