In a time when the newest iPhone and iPod dominate and excite, when GPS is within everyone's reach, and Google and the internet make anything easily known, it seems pretty simple to state that men walked on the Moon -- twelve of them, to be precise. But back then, when it happened -- this was pivotal, this was epochal, this was history. Talk about real excitement.
When "we" collectively as a Nation decided to go for the Moon, we hadn't even yet launched a man into space, though the Russians had. Furthermore, the idea that we could do it before the end of that decade was considered by many even within the various fields of the endeavor to be lunacy. Keep in mind that nothing mechanical that was used on the effort had even been invented yet, nothing. Not the huge Saturn V rocket, the space suit itself, and not even some of the physical materials that would be used. It hadn't even been named -- Apollo.
It was a work of giants, spread across the Nation and passing through the hands of some 400,000 to 450,000 workers whose sole aim it was to put those men there, on time, to some arbitrary and likely political timetable first outlined by a President who would barely live to see even 1/10th of the progress completed.
It was a process that would see several of the Astronauts die before any manned Apollo mission was even launched; two right here in St. Louis -- Elliot See and Charles Bassett -- at the old McDonnell-Douglas plant across from Lambert Airport. Three more on the launch pad during a routine Friday evening test -- "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Two more in routine flight accidents: Ted Freeman and Clifton Williams. It was costly in terms of money and in lives. Tell me the name of one person who died horrifically developing the iPhone?
It was even more amazing in the technological aspect. The Lunar Lander itself had an on-board computer with a system memory of about 75 kilobytes -- your average pocket calculator is far smarter, and far less important, and your current cell phone is massively more intelligent. Yet that simple thing was all they had. Imagine you're going to fly to the Moon, and your final approach computer is something we give away for free today when you go to a trade show. I doubt many people would even drive up to the Quickie-Mart for a soda with such a device as their sole means of survival.
I don't know exactly where I am going with this, just that I find it pretty amazing, even 44 years after the event, to consider that it happened at all -- and wonder personally when we will next see anything remotely akin to it to fire the imagination and lift our spirits.
I'm spending the year dead for tax purposes!