Monday, July 20, 2009
Dark Moon; No Eagle
40 years ago today, when Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 were landing on the moon, the world watched and waited. I did neither. Growing up in the 50s, I was a child of the space program. I made drawings of rockets, I put together models, and even saved up the incredible sum of 75 cents to buy a Co2 cartridge in hopes of launching something.
One time a friend and I built a mini Cape Canaveral out of my Erector Set. It readied an Atlas rocket for liftoff with a small electric motor. That's all it did.
In the 6th grade, my friend Randy and I saved up a dollar and a half and bought a small paperback at the local drugstore called SATELLITE! We coveted that book and finally owned it. Of course we weren't quite up to the reading level of the text, but did our best to understand as much as we could. I can still see that shiny silver ball with four antennae on the cover of the book.
A moon landing should have seen me in the front row somewhere. It didn't.
In July of 1969 I was completing my training as a VISTA Volunteer. I was in Houston, Texas. NASA is in Houston, Texas. ("Houston, we have a problem") The problem I had was that VISTAs were taken out of town for a few days while the world turned its attention of the Space Center at NASA Headquarters.
Poor people in Houston, and much of the south believed that our astronauts never went to the moon. That's right, many believed and still do today that it was all staged. It was a kind of collective denial because it cost billions to take that little moonwalk and millions were dealing with hunger and poverty here at home. In Houston there were demonstrations. The brass at the Office of Economic Opportunity feared that many VISTAs would either get too involved with their communities or possibly get arrested that they took the entire project on a little forced vacation.
So, while the rest of the country was getting ready to witness history, we were on a bus to Freeport, Texas for a getaway to the Gulf coast near Galveston. We relaxed, we swam in the Gulf, we sunbathed until it was time to get back on those Continental Trailways buses and return to Houston. Our exit from Freeport was delivered on a hurricane warning. The water turned gray as the sky, the wind and waves got threatening, so off we went.
I remember we were so hungry that when we stopped at an Italian Restaurant for dinner (on the government's dime) we ate the butter before the bread found its way to the table. I remember it was dark, somewhere around 10 or 11 p.m. when we got back to our communities in Houston. I remember that day, but I do not remember the moon landing. It wasn't until I returned back to "civilian life" that I ever read about the moon landing. When I see the pictures, hear the famous "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind," I listen carefully. It's been 40 years and we still have poverty and unemployment, and still haven't been back t the moon. I'll use this day to sort this out.