We've already marked the 50th anniversaries of Sputnik (October 1957), Yuri Gagarin's first human flight in space (April 1961), and Alan Shepard's first American flight in space (May 1961). Monday marks five decades since John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, and many newspapers have printed nice articles about Glenn and fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter returning to their launch pad to be honored and reminisce.
I was born in 1960, so was too young to remember these specific milestones. But soon, maybe around anniversaries of the Gemini era (1965-66), we'll get to events I have memory sparks of reading about in magazines, seeing on television, writing school reports about, and even drawing pictures of. If you pay attention, you'll get a feel for how incredibly fast the frontier was being pushed, how enormous the risks must have been. Fifty years ago, the U.S. shot Glenn around the planet; seven years later, it landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon. July 20, 2019 should be fun!
Fifty years. Half a century! The further these accomplishments recede into the past, the more astonishing they seem. Capsules held together with duct tape and baling wire (or, per Spock, stone knives and bearskins) were guided by computers less powerful than a 21st Century child's toy. Sooner than we can imagine, all the men and women who made it happen will be gone. Glenn (age 90) and Carpenter (age 86) are the only survivors of the original Mercury Seven. Three of the twelve men who walked on the Moon have died (Irwin, Shepard and Conrad). They're all old men now--albeit old men who could still kick your butt. Don't cross Buzz Aldrin if you don't want your nose punched.
For someone just a few years younger than me, it's history. For anyone my age or older, it's memories. I truly feel that one of the great privileges of my life was being here to witness it.