A Time to Remember
If you were young when men were rocketing to the moon, you will remember the excitement surrounding their incredible adventure. There was something space related everywhere you went. Grocery stores were selling a powdered drink mix called Tang – because the astronauts drank it. Kids didn’t play cowboys and indians anymore, as they were too busy bouncing around in slow motion like they did on the moon. All of my friends were asking their moms to buy them Space Food Sticks – a chewy, soft, Tootsie Roll type treat. Even G.I. Joe got moon gear. Barbie stayed home, that’s just how it was then.
One thing that stands out in my memories of this time is the sense of national pride. These were Americans. They were explorers going to a dangerous place. Flags on the rocket. Flags on their shoulders. They weren’t going alone. We watched it all on TV. We were right there with them. What made it even more real to us was that we could look up in the sky and see their destination. So near – yet so far away.
In the 40 years since Americans walked the surface of the Moon, great strides have been made in the field of space exploration. Skylab, the first space station, was in orbit for 6 years, but only occupied for a total of 171 days. It was abandoned to burn up on entering the atmosphere in 1979. The Space Shuttle was the next vehicle to carry men to orbit. In 1981, shuttles started to fly Americans and foreign astronauts into orbit to carry out various missions and then bring them back down. Americans watched with great pride as the shuttle crews experimented in space, fixed the Hubble Space Telescope, and built an International Space station. Two catastrophic disasters reminded us of the extreme danger of space flight, it seems we had started to think of rocketing in the space as routine. The remaining shuttles were retired in 2011. They had lasted 15 years longer than originally planned.
Finding the Now
I heard my local weatherman mention that the International Space Station would be visible one night. I missed the opportunity that night, but went online to find out more. NASA has a site where you can find viewing times for your local area. I clicked on the Sighting Opportunities link and selected my state and nearest town to find the next flyover. I also learned that the station was 300 feet wide and weighed almost a million pounds. Knowing that the station orbited at a height of about 250 miles, I wondered if I would really be able to see it.
Journey Back to Then
I went outside at the appointed time. Looking skyward, I was overcome by and incredible feeling. I was that young boy once again. Walter Cronkite just said they were on the Moon, and I had run out to look. That Moon. MY Moon!
I thought it was an airplane at first. Brighter than any star, it slid across the sky. I let the kid in me watch in wonder. There it is. There they are. 250 miles away, yet I can see it (them?) from my front yard. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I thought of all of the others who had gone up there before them. The names are engraved in that young boy’s memory. Armstrong, Aldrin, Grissom, Shepard, Collins, Young… I wondered if the crew up there was looking back at me.
I watched for a few minutes until it was gone. I stood there, staring at the sky, like that boy who peered at the Moon. Knowing there was nothing to be seen, yet not ready to look away.