Columnist Rebecca Martorella reflects on Apollo II launch and her fascination with space
In the doldrums of a pretty uneventful family summer (and a broader world too eventful to touch here), I was at a loss for what to write about this week. Until I saw the most amazing image of the Apollo 11 rocket projected on the Washington Monument to kick off the celebration of 50 years since the monumental moon walk that was “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Family lore says that I took my first steps along with those astronauts, when I would have been about 15 months old. Sounds a little fishy, but I’ll be a late walker if I can claim to share my first steps on Earth with Neil Armstrong’s first lunar strides.
I’ve always been fascinated with space. I remember doing reports on white dwarfs (aging stars up to eight times as massive as our sun!), and dreaming about what it would be like to be in the midst of all that…… space. Space Camp was the coolest concept to me, though I never pursued it because in spite of my dreams, I’m nervous, and claustrophobic, and a little bit afraid to fly. But maybe someday, I’ll take a private flight to view our blue marble from afar (hopefully, before we are all forced to live elsewhere).
A few years ago, our family visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. My husband and I were enraptured. Our generation spent our youth watching the development of space travel, gaining increasing knowledge of the galactic mysteries from the Hubble telescope and the Mars Rover, witnessing the tragedies of failed missions like the Challenger, and mourning the demotion of Pluto from planetary status. Seeing it all in person was a dream come true.
Once there, what struck me was the rudimentary nature of the craft and controls by today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, the rockets were cool, but so much did not present with the same grandeur in person that they held in my mind. The lunar lander looked like a prop made for an elementary school show with cardboard and tinfoil. It hangs from the ceiling because its legs can’t support its own weight in Earth’s gravity.
The control station where dozens of people sat to launch and lead epic missions was made up of clunky computer controls spread out across a large room, with hundreds of buttons and switches and screens and phone handsets. So complicated, they almost looked like toys. I’ll bet all of those work stations are now consolidated into one laptop. It made it even more amazing to consider what these engineers and scientists did with what they had at the time.
They have the actual space shuttle Atlantis housed there. The SPACE SHUTTLE on display inside a room, tipped at an angle to allow visitors to view the inside. In that context, it looks like a small private plane, hardly roomy enough for a multi-day mission to space. Maybe the years of viewing Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001 and the like led me to expect a roomy flying city or something. I know, it’s a space shuttle, not a space station, but still I didn’t expect a slightly more sophisticated puddle jumper.
I don’t mean to sound underwhelmed. Quite the opposite. My heart is racing just writing this. We were just in awe. But our kids were relatively unimpressed.
My husband disagrees with me. He believes the Internet actually works to ignite, not suppress, the sense of wonder in our kids, that connecting with people across the world who share interests and give “likes” is inspiring, validating, and motivating to them. I’m not so sure. But then again, when I was a kid, along with space travel I also dreamed of being a rock star. Maybe a YouTuber is just the modern day equivalent of an 80’s rock star, and a more achievable one at that.
And who knows, perhaps someday our kids will be able to broadcast from the stars.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.