When Artemis was launched Nov. 16 for its trip around the moon, it set off so many memories, good and bad.
After men landed on the moon, Grandma Dalman, ever the skeptic, declared it didn’t happen; it was just a hoax.
She said it was staged so the Russians would be fooled, thinking we got to the moon before they did. That fake moon-landing, she claimed, was filmed in some Hollywood studio.
We laughed even louder; she scowled at us.
Was grandma ahead of her time? Was she a pioneering promulgator of the lunatic conspiracy theories that sprout like cave mushrooms these days?
In 1963, I spent the summer in north Alabama with my oldest brother, Jimmy, his wife and baby. Jimmy was in the U.S. Army, serving at Redstone Arsenal base, which is the army’s center for missile and rocket programs.
One day, Jimmy and I visited an outdoor site where the first stage of a giant Saturn rocket was on display. Jimmy said that rocket, or a variation of it, might put men on the moon someday, as President John F. Kennedy had promised. The idea intrigued me, but like grandma I was skeptical. How could they possibly do that? But they sure enough did, and a Saturn V rocket made it possible (unless, of course, the “landing” took place in a Hollywood studio).
A few months after my Alabama summer, President Kennedy was assassinated. His promise of a moon landing persisted.
On the night of July 20, 1969, my family members and I were “glued” to our outdated clunky Motorola TV, big as a small cottage, with rabbit ears on top and fuzzy reception, like near-zero visibility in a blizzard. We could hear the voice of Walter Cronkite as he described the moon-landing module dubbed “The Eagle” descending closer, slowly, slowly to the lunar surface.
Holding our breaths, we heard Cronkite say in that authoritative voice of his: “The Eagle has landed!”
We cheered, then peered into the TV-screen snowstorm, hoping to see something, anything. Lo and behold, we saw a ghostly-white human climbing down a small ladder to stand on the moon. Then we heard the voice of that astronaut, Neil Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
We cheered again; we clapped.
“They did it! They’re on the MOON!”
Good thing Grandma wasn’t in that living room, scowling at the TV set, shaking her head no.
Since the moon landing, there have been so many astonishing accomplishments in space: astronauts orbiting Earth for months at a time, in some cases up to a year; visual planetary explorations by wondrous space probes; landings on Mars; super telescopes that can “see” deep into the universe.
Then there were the catastrophes. Three astronauts died in 1967 during a test when a flash fire swept through their command module.
On Jan. 28, 1986 (my 38th birthday), I was in my Alexandria office, working on a news story when someone shouted in alarm, “That space shuttle exploded!” We all rushed to the lobby and gawked at the TV. It’s one of those few moments in life when you remember exactly where you were so vividly that it’s as if you are still there, inside that moment.
Speechless, we learned the space shuttle Challenger exploded after being launched, killing all seven aboard – six astronauts and their special guest traveler, Christa McAuliffe, a Florida school teacher. Her eager young students were proudly watching the lift-off when they realized something went wrong. On TV, their happy faces clouded over with puzzlement, turning to shock, then horror and sadness.
“Houston, we have a problem,” said one of the engineers in the NASA control center. A grim understatement if ever there was one.
May space exploration continue. But let us hope we humans at long last learn to respect and nurture this planet, Earth, before we colonize and befoul a planet somewhere else.