Sunday, July 26, 2009

And he took a walk.

I realize this post is about a week late – heavy sigh. Life seems to find a way to fill my time.

On July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong took his walk in the Sea of Tranquility. It has been a tremendously exciting 12 years. I remember all the excitement around Sputnik. School changed completely. Science and math were emphasized. New learning methods were tried. By the early 60s we had TV in the class rooms. Launches were televised and we watched every one. I have vivid memories of sitting in Ms. Atkins classroom in 5th grade drawing the outline of Florida and the flight path of Shepard’s first suborbital flight. I even remember the green fountain pen I used to outline the coast line.

Things continued to accelerate – John Glenn’s three orbit flight. Ed White’s first space walk. The first Apollo orbital flights. The loss of White, Grissom and Chaffee – a devastating event that took us all by surprise and reminded us this was uncharted territory with all the attendant dangers.

One additional connection to these flights was my Uncle Victor, a WWII bomber pilot that had become an aeronautical engineer. His project was the attitude jets on the side of the lunar lander. Very cool!

As high school came to an end, war was all around us. Vietnam was just coming out of the trauma of Tet 1968. It was before the lottery, you simply received a letter from Uncle in the mail. I volunteered instead – Air Force. Even then we were hell bent on getting to the moon! I read everything I could. Now I was working on some of the same systems used to communicate with the capsules. Again, very cool!

And, that’s how I ended up in Taiwan. I was at a number of locations, but in July 1969 I was in Tainan. To kill some of the evenings, I had started teaching conversational English at a regional Taiwanese military artillery school. On the evening of July 20th the commander invited me to the base to watch Neil Armstrong take his historic walk. It was an electric moment. There, on a black and white – slightly snowy – TV, man was walking on the moon. It has enthralled me ever since.

We were a more committed country then. We were willing to take on big endeavors. People were independent. Industries were confident in their abilities and ready for every challenge. Every kid wanted to be an engineer, a pilot, and astronaut. We were truly reaching for the stars.

All because of men like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. They demonstrated what we were capable of. I pray we rediscover that again.

No comments: