40 years ago today, the first humans walked on the moon, having survived a perilous journey there and worrying about whether they would get home. if you were born after that day, the moon landing probably seems like an ordinary event to you, video with poor special effects.
it wasn’t ordinary to me. it was a “first,” one of many firsts that I have experienced in my life. on that day i was 18, having just finished my first year of college and living at home that summer. i was raised by a father who consumed information about science and science fiction and who passed along these loves to me. we watched all television coverage of the long journeys to the moon, with black-and-white images from the space crafts. television always covers big events the same way (think of michael jackson’s funeral), and so the build-up to the landing took hours. it was toward midnight when images came of moon dust swirling as the landing craft gently settled on the moon’s surface. and still we waited as new procedures were checked and re-checked. i fell asleep, lying on the floor in front of the television, and my father woke me in time to see the first human exit a spacecraft on a celestial world other than the earth. the man moved slowly in his bulky space suit, its reflective helmet hiding his emotions.
as his foot met the moon’s dusty surface, his words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” tickled my pre-feminist cognitions, but not enough for me to open a dialogue on gendered nouns with my father, who was always too happy to play the devil’s advocate. eventually i fell asleep again, and my father watched television long into the night.
after the moon missions ended in the early 1970s, our universe contracted significantly. no one travels to the moon today. no moon bases have been established. there have been no people traveling to mars, and my expectations for the terra-forming of mars turned out to be science fiction.
corporate america and the military wanted a system of satellites around the earth to expand technology and to watch whomever they desired. so we were given space buses — the shuttles, one of which exploded almost immediately after take-off. and now that the shuttles are too old to fly, we have nothing. nothing except plans for even smaller shuttles to service the satellites that control so much of our lives and to ferry people back and forth from the international space station. how many years will pass until something much bigger than the mini-shuttles carry humans back to the moon?
in 1960 US president john kennedy challenged his country to put a man on the moon within 10 years. it happened. 40 years later, president barak obama challenges the country to reform in ways that will stabilize the economy. maybe that will take 10 years too.
as for me, i have been furious for nearly 40 years. the united states abandoned deep space exploration, and my exciting expectations of life in the 21st century turned out to be so totally, completely wrong. if a new moon or mars mission were to begin today, i might not live long enough to see it. i feel cheated. and i’m still furious.