September 11th, 2002

abstract butterfly


I remember the day when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was ten years old at the time. The years leading up to the moonwalk had progressively involved more impressive feats of space flight. The Gemini spacewalks had been exciting. Apollo 8 had previously circled the moon without landing. I thought to myself at the time of Apollo 8 how exciting and yet what a longing one must have, to be one of those who circle the moon, but do not get to land upon it.

The moonwalk took place some time after midnight on a July morning. We did not have cable television in our town in those days, so we had to rely on imperfect reception by antenna from the television stations eighty miles away. We sat around the television and watched scenes shot from a camera outside the "lunar module". The cameras filmed in black and white, and the whole effect was somewhat washed out. The reception was not particularly good. My childish memory tells me that the whole production was interminably long, and could have been much better stage-managed.

Eventually, Neil Armstrong came out of the lunar module and began to climb down the steps towards the ground. He took it fairly slowly, as I recall. As he hit the last step, he said the pre-prepared words "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". The words sounded a bit canned and rehearsed, but the step onto the lunar surface was spontaneous and free. Soon we could see that people could fly thousands upon thousands of miles to the moon, and stroll it as if it were the Arizona desert. The low gravity gave a lilting, exotic spring to his step. We saw moon dust being kicked up that dawn.

This was a heady time, when we drank an orange drink called Tang because it was what the astronauts drank, and we ate a stick candy called Space Food Sticks, because they were what the astronauts supposedly ate. We wore Red Ball Jet
tennis shoes, because they made one run faster, and jump higher. We played with a spaceman called Matt Mattel, who wandered about in a perpetual lunar suit. We watched Lost in Space and Star Trek on television, either in original issue or in re-run.

When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, nothing in our lives really changed. It was time of incredible social turbulence in our country, and a time of Cold War overseas. It was a time of hot war in Vietnam. But when we watched Mr. Armstrong walk on the moon, it seemed, just for a moment, that human endeavor could make anything possible, and that people could do things about which writers had dreamed in fantasy novels.