Podcaster: David Kurtz
Description: Apollo 11 was a victory for all nations and peoples of the world. This is a look back, and look forward, at what is arguably mankind’s crowning glory and how this event has impacted our lives, our culture, in a word… everything. I see human adventure into space as dark, cruel and unforgiving. But it can also be pure, untainted and uplifting. I wish I were 12 again for one brief moment in 1969. My name is David Kurtz and I am proud to call the Earth our home and mother and the Moon our neighbour and sister.
Bio: David Kurtz is a Montreal-based consultant who has covered a wide range of technology assignments in print and web for business. When not delivering communications strategies to IT and other companies in the telecom and aerospace sectors, he is writing about high-tech, space science, hydrogen energy and other subjects as a freelance writer/journalist. This retrospective is dedicated to David’s 8-year old daughter, Syreena, who would like to be the first woman to set foot on Mars.
This episode of 365 Days of Astronomy is sponsored by the Physics Department at Eastern Illinois University: “Caring faculty guiding students through teaching and research” at www.eiu.edu/~physics/
Hi, I’m David Kurtz and I’m a communications consultant and freelance journalist from Montreal. On this Day of Astronomy for July 21, 2009, I want to take you back to an event that happened just last night, but four decades earlier. July 20, 1969 is a date that needs no introduction, yet one that has no ending since we are preparing to head back to the Moon. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the triumphant Apollo 11 manned lunar landing, I would like to share with you the feelings of a young boy (that would be me) who grew up in Canada watching NASA’s Apollo space program. Today’s podcast is called “Moonstruck: A Retrospective Look at How Apollo 11 Changed Our World”.
I was 12 when it happened. No, it wasn’t the summer of free love when Joni Mitchell’s song captured the spirit of a generation that transformed Max Yasgur’s farm into the legendary rock ‘n roll music festival known simply as Woodstock. At least not in our house, my parents made sure of that. Nor was it the constant bombardment of stark images showing people dying, for real, in front of us and blaring across our television sets every night at suppertime from a faraway place once called French Indochina. The first “living-room war” beamed direct from Vietnam, as it would later be known, curiously, was also off limits.
But what happened during that final year of a turbulent decade rampant with incredible change was the realization that between peace and war lay another form of personal discovery: human adventure. Some call the event miraculous; others call it genius. Either way, it changed my day and for millions of others it was like no other day before it. It also changed our world forever and how we saw our place in the universe. It all had to do with a man dressed in a funny-looking outfit coming down a ladder and taking one big leap into the history books.
Now when I look back, it is hard to think that forty years have passed since that historic moment when man first walked on the Moon. My family and friends, even the neighbourhood’s dogs and cats, were all crowded around our old black-and-white RCA late that Sunday night squinting at the grainy images on the TV screen, eager to witness our greatest achievement… without any music or bullets, just the eerie silence of deep space accompanied by, of course, Walter Cronkite’s unmistakeable voice.
We all held our collective breath earlier that July 20 as astronaut Neil Armstrong coolly searched for a comfortable spot to touch down his modern-day moonship with only seconds left before running out of fuel and risk being left stranded there forever. Eagle, Columbia, Tranquility Base… hearing these unforgettable call signs and code names made our imaginations race wildly as if we were part of this out-of-world post-Jules Verne space story. We were. We kids, bright-eyed and giddy with excitement, just looked at each other and smiled with delight.
This was no reality show; this was the Real McCoy and we were watching every twitch of the spacemen 400,000 kilometres away. When Armstrong proclaimed “The Eagle has landed”, those golden words echoed across the cosmos and bounced back to Earth sending shivers down our spines. We knew we had done something right and completed an endeavour worthy of any species. The feeling was electric; we were moonstruck.
Apollo 11 would mark the fifth manned flight of the Apollo program and, more importantly, the first manned mission to land on the Moon. Five more manned Apollo crews would subsequently set down on Luna, but none would have the impact of Apollo 11. The second moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin, later described the Moon as magnificent desolation, but we didn’t care that the vista of this other world looked like a murky sandlot with men in shapeless white suits running around in it. We were with them every bounce of the way.
So were many others. While we hail Apollo 11, let’s not forget the other countless missions that brought Armstrong, Aldrin and Mike Collins, the forgotten space traveller, moonside. While the words of these Apollo 11 explorers will always be inspiring, so will that single, supreme image with which we have all become familiar: our fragile planet, resembling a gorgeous blue-and-white marble and dangling in the infinite vacuum of blackness, floating ever so teasingly just above the lunar surface. It was Apollo 8 that captured Earthrise a year earlier. We finally got to see how others would see us and were struck with a new wonder and appreciation for our planet.
While young people today may not have any idea what an LP was, who the Brady Bunch were, how a family could live on an average annual income of $8,000 or why it was cool to drive a Trans-Am, they not only remember that we once walked on the Moon but they will be the ones to do so again. I understand we are headed back to where Buzz’ indelible footprint is still visible in the soft powdery lunar surface, like a dinosaur relic stuck in time. I envy those explorers who will leave their own marks on our lustrous satellite.
Before we go back to that magical place to contemplate and look at ourselves from afar once more, we celebrate. We celebrate to remind us that what occurred on that extraordinary day forty years ago was a rite of passage, and the Apollo 11 Moon landing was a special one at that. However, something else took flight that very special year. Yes, hippies were mesmerized by Jimi Hendrix performing while ordinary folks were transfixed by David Halberstam reporting from a surreal battlefront of wills. But for the first time in our existence we realized that the lights in the sky were places in the universe we could actually visit.
While Apollo 11 effectively put an end to the space race between the Americans and the Soviets, it did little to dampen the enthusiasm and feeling that this human adventure was a triumph by and for all the peoples of the Earth. We were all participants in history’s foremost journey of exploration and self-discovery. For one brief moment in the life of a planet when the world got smaller and united, we got a glimpse into what humanity is capable of becoming and how far we can go if we all work together.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Those words reverberate; the images illuminate. I look back, no… I look forward and realize that we have the potential to be so much more if we just put change to work for the better. The human spirit knows no boundaries and human adventure, no limits. It is time to rekindle the flame and soar high again. The right direction? We can reach the stars. I know that now. But we need to be reminded just how good we once were and can be again.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.