Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oh, the View is Tremendous.

Friend O' The Blog Jim O'Kane has pointed out that we're in the midst of a long string of anniversaries that will give people too young to remember the Space Age a chance to vicariously relive it at the same pace 50 years later.

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.


Mike said...


I was in seventh grade, but not on that day. I felt, ahem, sick. My stomach hurt and/or I had a headache. Possibly a touch of la grippe or ague or something. Whatever we had in those days.

In any case, I was in front of the TV for Glenn's flight. (I got better.)

Brian Fies said...

Sounds like a case of the vapors. I'm glad it passed.

Sherwood Harrington said...

I was in front of the tv, too -- as were my mom and dad, and none of us made any excuses to school or employer. I think the whole town was pretty much shut down that day.

If I'm still capable of putting together complete sentences in 2019, my reminiscence of the Apollo 11 landing will include a Nobel laureate, a brownout on a mountaintop, a home-made color tv, factor-of-three violation of a speed limit on a twisty mountain road, my first and only published paper in The Astrophysical Journal, and parakeet shit.

You'll just have to wait.

Brian Fies said...

You need to write up that story for your blog NOW, then set the date to automatically post it in seven years. You know . . . just in case.

Jim O'Kane said...

Thanks for the hat tip, Brian! Friendship 7 will always be an incredibly confluence of space achievement and public relations. I've always felt bad for Glenn and that concocted "hit-his-head-on-the-bathroom-sink" story that supposedly ground him for the rest of his career at NASA. I can understand JFK's desire not to have any hero astronaut funerals on his watch, but it seemed like quite a sacrifice to curtail his space career in that manner.

The May 24th anniversary of Scott Carpenter's Aurora 7 is coming up soon. He's Captain Girlfriend's favorite astronaut - I think because of his undiagnosed ADD activities on the mission ("Retrofire in 5-4-3- ooh shiny!"). Carpenter definitely listened to the beat of a different drummer. Would have been interesting to hear his take on the surface during a lunar mission.

In a way, I'm glad there's an interlude between the age of Shuttles and the next generation of American spacecraft. I think we have to miss something for a while so that we can appreciate it when it returns.