Monday, July 20, 2009

40 years ago today...

I was sitting in the dining hall at Bob Mathias Sierra Camp. (Bob Mathias was like Bruce Jenner, except younger, less blond, and pre-television). All us boys (I think the girls had a separate camp) were looking at a small TV with barely visible pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin making history.

EE Times, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic and of course NASA have websites marking the anniversary. Popular Science claims 10 things that I didn’t know about the landing (actually, only 8 were new to me.) A new book, Voices from the Moon, collects interviews from all 12 men who walked on the moon.

In his book Timeline, the late physician and novelist Michael Crichton wrote that 19th century scientist would be amazed “that humankind [sic] would travel to the moon, and then lose interest.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer cites Crichton favorably in lamenting the loss of political will since the last human being left the moon [on December 14, 1972.]

The reasons to return, Krauthammer (and I) would argue, are about the human spirit, not finding more velcro or Tang®:

Why do it? It's not for practicality. We didn't go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And when you do such magnificently hard things -- send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong -- you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.

We are now deep into that hyper-terrestrial phase, the age of iPod and Facebook, of social networking and eco-consciousness.

But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." And so we did it. We came. We saw. Then we retreated.


Anonymous said...

I just happened across your comment. I, too, was sitting in the Bob Mathias dining hall watching the same television! You must have been too much of a boy to notice that we girls were there too. Come to think of it, I can't blame you because I don't recall the boys being there either! I'll never forget the moon landing, though. -Nan Shiras

Joel West said...


My recollections of Bob Mathias camp was that the girls were on the other side of the lake and we saw them (you) once or twice during the week. If we shared a dining hall then I must be confusing (40 years later) the Mathias camp with another one. (Wikipedia claims the camp went co-ed in 1969, but you can't believe everything they say).

Did you participate in the closing blue vs. green relay? I do recall that vividly as being the culmination (if not the highlight) of the week.


George McKee said...


I found your post quite by accident but was also in the lodge of camp watching that same moon landing on that little black and white TV. I will never forget that day. I was 13 years old. Yes the camp went co-ed in 1969. The camp no longer exists but the property and lodge are now owned by the Armenian Church of Fresno and we have a yearly camp reunion and eat in that same lodge, whick looks and feels exactly the same as it did in 1969.