Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Beautiful, Magnificent Desolation


On Wednesday July 16, 1969 a Saturn V rocket lifted off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center carrying Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins into space.  Three days later, at 10:56 PM, the world was transfixed as the lunar lander “Eagle” touched down in the Sea of Tranquility.  More than 650 million people witnessed one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.  Seeing the surface of the moon for the first time. Buzz Aldrin described it as “a beautiful, magnificent desolation.”  When the astronauts departed, they left behind the American flag, mission patches and medals honoring fallen astronauts and cosmonauts and a coin-sized silicon disk bearing goodwill messages from the world leaders of planet Earth.
Also remaining on the surface of the moon is the descent ladder of the Lunar Module bearing a commemorative plaque inscribed with the words:  “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 A.D.  We came in peace for all mankind.”
“Here is one way to conceptualize NASA's heroic era: in 1961, [President] Kennedy gave his ‘Moon Speech’ to Congress, charging them to put an American on the moon ‘before the decade is out.’  In the eight years that unspooled between Kennedy's speech and Neil Armstrong's first historic boot print, NASA, a newborn government agency, established sites and campuses in Texas, Florida, Alabama, California, Ohio, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; awarded multi-million-dollar contracts and hired four hundred thousand workers; built a fully functioning moon port in a formerly uninhabited swamp; designed and constructed a moon-faring rocket, spacecraft, lunar lander, and space suits; sent astronauts repeatedly into orbit, where they ventured out of their spacecraft on umbilical tethers and practiced rendezvous techniques; sent astronauts to orbit the moon, where they mapped out the best landing sites; all culminating in the final, triumphant moment when they sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to step out of their lunar module and bounce about on the moon, perfectly safe within their space suits. All of this, start to finish, was accomplished in those eight years.” ― Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight

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