You would have to be hiding under a rock to not know that today was the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon with the successful adventures of Apollo 11. The event is historic in so many ways – the use of technology, government commitment, thousands of super smart people, training and training and training and a call from our President, John F. Kennedy to win the international race to the moon.
Have you ever played the game of what was one of your earliest memories? I certainly have a few glimmers here and there of some things when I was very young but my clearest memory in a running loop was watching the lunar landing on July 20, 1969. I was 8 years old and had gone away to “sleep away” camp for the very first time. It was a Blue Bird camp, the junior version of being a Camp Fire girl (I never actually made it long enough to actually become a Camp Fire girl, somewhere along the way I realized that overly organized and orchestrated group activities weren’t really my thing…and maybe the super-huge daddy long-legs that seem to always gather in cinder block camping bathrooms were another detractor?). The camp was somewhere in Indiana where we lived at the time and I remember being dropped off in my little uniform by my entire family. Maybe this was a big deal to everyone at the time. Clearly I was already a fashion icon and even my brother with his daily wear of his Superman cape, seemed to realize that my being gone for a week was going to be a big deal.
I recall the evening of the moon landing when they herded all of the campers into a common area where there was a little black and white television set. The TV was the size of what now sits in my kitchen – no more than 24 inches in width – but I remember being amazed that this technology could exist in a camp where it seemed that soft toilet paper was a luxury. The images started to show, along with some static over the audio and I will never forget how quiet a room full of young girls could become as we were all fixated on the scene in front of us with Neil Armstrong (native son of Wapakoneta, Ohio – also the home of ComNet Fiber Network!) stepping onto the moon and planting the flag of the United States of America. I remember nothing else about that week at camp but will never forget where I was when I realized that almost anything was possible.
All of this certainly started a space craze that took years to settle down. My brother spent much of the next year trading his Superman cape for a space helmet (and ray guns) and who didn’t love the Pillsbury Space Food Sticks? They were a lunch box staple for me in chocolate and caramel. Fun fact, they really were developed for astronauts and John Glenn was the first to take them (and I suppose eat them…) in space. They were designed to actually fit through one of the airtight tubes in the space suit helmet and particularly designed for emergencies. Tang was also on the menu – a flavored (not sure what flavor, but flavored) orange drink that was also designed for astronauts. No Gatorade or electrolytes in the late 1960’s!
It is still breathtaking to me the bravery that it took for those three men to sit in a tiny capsule, essentially on top of a bomb, with a limited chance of returning (so much so that they were unable to get life insurance to cover the trip. Still wanting to ensure that their families were taken care of, they signed hundreds of envelope flaps and left them with their families under the theory that their autographs prior to disaster would be worth enough to compensate those they left behind. I’m not sure that is the right treatment for American heroes but maybe it made sense 50 years ago?).
I hope that we as a country never lose that spirit of exploration and innovation…and I am kind of waiting for Space Food Sticks to make a comeback!