We need people on the moon to make us feel good about being on Earth

One of the Space Shuttle launches I attended and photographed as a staff member of the House Science & Technology Committee.
Remember how good we felt when Apollo astronauts landed on the moon back in 1969?

Had hoped to watch the Artemis 1 launch from Cape Kennedy this morning as a way to fight the depression that sinks in when surrounded by almost-hourly reports of past presidents obstructing justice by hiding classified documents he should never have and a political system ruled by hate and pathetic partisanship.

The launch that was supposed to start a planned unmanned test flight to orbit the moon and return brings back memories of listening to the Apollo moon landing in July 1969 while driving across the flat landscape of Kansas on a trip back to the St. Louis area from Denver.

My first wife and I had driven to Denver the week before to see her father and brother a few months after a move from Roanoke to Alton, IL, to take a new newspaper job in the metro St. Louis-area Mississippi River city.

On the drive back, we had the radio of our 1968 Ford Torino fastback on an AM station and were listening to the landing. When the words: “The Eagle has landed,” cars and trucks on Interstate 70 blared their horns and flashed their lights in response.

We later pulled into a rest stop and listened to others who cheered and passed around drinks. It was a fun time in America much unlike what we have today. Years later (in the 1980s), I would be working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as Special Assistant to the Ranking Member of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee and would help investigate the disaster of the Space Shuttle that brought the death of seven astronauts, including the first planned “teacher in space. Happier times during that tenure included flying down to the Cape to participate in launches of the shuttle program and a trip photographing the landing on one Shuttle at the White Sands base in New Mexico with my boss, Rep. Manuel Lujan.

A drawer of patches from those flights occupies a drawer on my desk, along with photos of the launches and other events. A collection of NASA hats sits on a shelf in a closet. They remind me of a special time in our history and a more pleasant time of life.

Investigating the Challenger Shuttle disaster reminded us that space travel was dangerous. We knew from the death of three astronauts in a fire in a capsule that killed Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White on Jan. 27, 1967. We would watch and pray three years later when Appolo 13’s flight to the moon was hit by an incident that threatened the lives of there more astronauts who struggled to bring the crippled capsule back to Earth and safety.

Amy and I got to know several astronauts and their families during the years I spent with the Science and Tech Committee. They were and still are special people in a special time in our history.NASA now depends on private contractors to provide much of the hardware and technology for their space projects, much of it provided by billionaires like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Elon Musk of Tesla. The problem that halted the planned Artemis launch Monday is one of several failures that have hampered the efforts.

Some question the cost of Space programs, but I remember that afternoon in a rest stop on Interstate 70 in Kansas with people we didn’t know and never saw again cheering a landing on the moon and the later first steps of astronaut Neil Armstong with the words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and I wonder if we will ever feel that good about America again.

Let’s hope, and pray, that we can.

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© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse