Sunday, July 20, 2014

45 Years Later...

Today is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the Moon and Armstrong & Aldrin's moonwalk. Interestingly, my personal memories of watching the event on TV are a bit fuzzy , because I was woken by my Dad to watch it (it being well after my 8:00 bedtime).  Being such a big space fanatic as I was at the time, I don't know how it came about that I didn't lobby long and loudly to be allowed to stay up until the landing happened.
In school, we watched all the launchings and spashdowns on TV. My friends and I would pretend we were the astronauts during those moments. (One of my best friends was named Allen Bean, so Apollo 12 was a big deal for us.) During recess, the slide and the monkeybars became our lunar modules. I spent endless hours with my Major Matt Mason, Mattel's Man in Space action figure and accessories. The astronauts were my heroes and I couldn't wait to become one of them.
This lunar landing anniversary, a lot more media attention is being paid to Apollo 11, with more video and pictures popping up on popular websites than I can recall seeing in a long while. One evening this week, I was looking at some newly released still pictures from the Apollo missions that were not the usual subjects: a picture of the lunar module still nestled in the rocket fairing, taken from the command module as it maneuvered around to dock with and free the LEM; a picture of the lunar module as it ascended from the Moon, chasing the CM in order to dock so the crew could return home.
I got a distinct chill looking at these and similar pictures, this time. The men in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were doing things that had either never been done before or had only been done once, twice, or a handful of times before. Exiting the capsule for a spacewalk, tethered by just a cord? Maneuvering multi-ton craft in zero-gravity and docking with another craft? Making a soft landing of a space craft (not splashing down or making essentially a controlled crash)? Any of these things could have gone disastrously, leaving the crew drifting uncontrollably until they ran out of air, crashed, or burned up in the atmosphere.
The reason for my chill? Because, as a candidate in Mars One's astronaut program, I may one day get to attempt similar feats never before attempted by humans. Traveling beyond lunar orbit. Transiting across interplanetary space. Making a soft landing on another planet. All these will be firsts. All of them hold the potential for disaster.
I hope to display the same courage and grace under pressure that the astronaut heroes of my childhood had.