September 05, 2003

nothing something in particular

The problem with comments is that I feel like I have to answer them. I left a lengthy comment in the post below, and now I don't much feel like writing anything else.

I wanted to write something about the Apollo program, largely because the soon-to-be five year old has suddenly discovered astronauts and the moon. I'm always amazed how his attention shifts -- the first time I took him to the Air and Space Museum -- he was probably not quite three at the time -- the things that interested him were the model trucks on the model deck of the model aircraft carrier. He loved pirates last summer, then medieval knights in the fall and winter, then ancient Egypt in the spring and most of the summer. While some of the pirate and knight games remained -- we still have thrilling sword fights, either with our without shields -- his attention shifted to building Egyptian temples out of blocks, and making sarcophagi for his FisherPrice mummy figures. We have a dozen or so books for children on ancient Egypt, plus a few for adults that he seems to prefer (particularly the ones with lots of photographs). Then, last weekend, he saw a book with astronauts and space shuttles on the cover, and that's the new mania.

This is somewhat poignant for me, because when I was not much older than him, Apollo 11 successfully landed men on the moon. I remember my mom got me a book on the Apollo program -- I vaguely recall that the Gulf Oil Company offered it as a premium with so many fill-ups (but I may be wrong about this). It had the requisite pictures of Goddard and a pretty cool cutaway diagram of the Saturn V rocket, showing the Lunar Module garage (it was called the LEM, short for Lunar Excursion Module, but when I was a kid I thought it was the Limb, like an arm or a leg). My absolute favorite toy was Major Matt Mason, and when my parents got me bunk beds, I insisted on sleeping in the bottom one, because it would be just like an astronaut in his space capsule (hey, I was 5 years old).

I remember not so much the first moon landing, but my father getting me to come watch it. I remember rather vividly the anxiety about Apollo 13 -- it seemed that you'd hear each morning that last night's crisis had been solved, only to find out on the evening news that no, chances were still slim, and we'd probably lose the crew. It makes me tear up a little bit whenever I read the words of Gene Kranz, addressing his colleagues at the bleakest moment:

Okay, listen up. When you leave this room, you must leave believing that this crew is coming home. I don't give a damn about the odds, and I don't give a damn that we've never done anything like this before. Flight control will never lose an American in space. You've got to believe, you people have got to believe, that this crew is coming home. Now let's get going.

I quoted that passage from a book, Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon. It was epic. The same volume notes,

Unfortunately, without a clear vision behind it, and without the "old heads" in NASA engineering, the shuttle program ran very differently from Apollo, and it would come in grossly over budget and years late.

I don't mean to take anything away from the brave astronauts and the engineers and technicians at mission control who've manned the shuttle program, but it seems like that lack of clear vision is still a problem, and one that hasn't been answered. And that, when I was a kid, I could imagine a future in space, whereas for my son, the glory years all seem to be in the past -- astronauts aren't much different than pirates or mummies to him.

Posted by Ideofact at September 5, 2003 11:55 PM

Mmmm, Major Matt Mason. The only reason I can understand 'collectors' is that I wanted all the Major Matt Mason stuff soooo much. I wonder whatever happened to mine....

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at September 7, 2003 10:58 AM