Saturday, July 19, 2014

69. July 20, 1969 - A Day I'll Always Remember

National Pride; oil on panel; 18 x 24
Few dates stand out in my life as much as the Apollo 11 moon landing, 45 years ago tomorrow. I have always been a close follower and enthusiast of space exploration and I was totally absorbed by not only the Apollo program, but every space launch and advancement through the Mercury and Gemini programs. I had been waiting for this day for most of my 13 years of life.

The landing itself took place on the afternoon of July 20, 1969. The networks showed cartoons or models of the lunar lander (called “Eagle”) nearing the moon’s surface while we all listened to the voices of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and mission control. It was 3:17pm (Central Standard Time) when they safely landed and we all heard “Tranquility Base here...the Eagle has landed.” My parents, brother and sister and I had all been watching the TV. My father pointed out to me that my palms were all wet and sweaty from the tension of following the landing. I stepped outside to relax and work off the excess energy and excitement. I saw traffic on the road in front of our house and I could not believe that these people were so oblivious to the historic event that had just happened. “Where did these people need to go that was so important that they would miss such an historic event?” I asked myself. 

The Bickers Family on July 20, 1969.
Later that night, the astronauts came out of their spacecraft for the moonwalk.  It was Sunday night and our family gathered around the TV. My father took pictures of the TV screen and also had us all pose by the TV set. Later, we even threw a mattress into the den and stayed up late watching the news coverage. Then we saw the ghostly images, bright lights and shadows, pictures that were sometimes transparent, reflections, and grainy black and white. Yet it was odd the way the people bounced across the surface of the moon with such ease. You could clearly see the moon dust and dirt being kicked up and moved about, yet there were no clouds of dust in the vacuum at all. I could clearly see clods of soil and small rocks kicked and then falling away in a perfect arc in a way that was very strange and other-worldly. The flag hung on a horizontal metal rod. It never rippled. It shook when someone touched it. It was made of nylon and likely decayed very quickly a few weeks later in the solar heat. According to Buzz Aldrin, it fell over during their lift-off from the rocket exhaust. 

Awestruck; oil on panel; 24 x 18
I will say this now --the notion that all of this might be faked never entered my head. There is plenty of evidence (fully described elsewhere) that the moon landing was authentic and every argument I have ever heard that it was not real has been rooted in ignorance and a lack of understanding of physics and the laws of nature. 
Then President Nixon called, which everyone could have done without. Commentators openly wondered if the astronauts would really go back inside when told to. Walter Cronkite added, “Who would stop them?” 

Cronkite also commented that this event was so historic that the calendar itself might be calibrated against it in the future with the years divided between “before moon” or BM and “after moon” or AM. Having been born in 13 BM didn’t sound too dignified and the current date of 45 AM sounds a bit confusing in the morning. Still... it is hard to fully describe what a transition this event represented in how we viewed the moon. The moon was always a bright round circle in the sky that changed shape and colors. Most of the time it didn’t even appear three-dimensional. It had an almost abstract quality to it. The moon was the very symbol of all things that were beyond our grasp. Things that were unreachable, unknowable. As thus, it also represented the future, perhaps mankind’s far future. Reaching it was something that would happen someday, when the future arrived, but not in our lifetimes. All of that changed that night. From then on due to this mission and the others that followed, the moon was less abstract and more real to me. It was an actual place, a fascinating and wonderful place that I found both interesting and beautiful. And as we explored even more rugged and varied terrain, it became even a magical place to me, so unlike Earth in its stark contrast.
I think the moon is still a fascinating and beautiful place that has many secrets to reveal.  We have barely scratched the surface in exploring it and none of the moon landings were at the most interesting locations there.  I hope someday we will go back in force and establish a moon base - something similar to what we have at the South Pole.  Later, maybe in this century, I envision many more people visiting the moon and conducting all kinds of scientific research there with a sizable permanent city.  I had hoped we would have done this by 2014, but it may be the Chinese who will populate and explore the moon while we sit at home and watch whatever images they choose to share with us.  I hope I am wrong.

I told my story to Alan Boyle, science writer at MSNBC back on the 40th Anniversary of the moon landing.  An excerpt of that article is at left (click to enlarge).

In 2009 I also gave a presentation at my art show of paintings and photographs commemorating the Apollo 11 mission. A copy of my show's poster is at right. A transcript of my presentation can be found in my Blog Post No. 6.  Other relevant blogs on the subject include my Posts No. 3, 4, 5, 7 and 15. Some of the images from the 2009 show can be found at my website here.

I am currently working on more art of the Apollo missions and expect to organize another art show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing in July, 2019.  Announcements about that show will be posted on this blog and on my website at http://www.