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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Apollo 11, The True Story of the Lunar Landing

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 23rd, 2009


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I remember staying up and watching this at 4 AM or some ungodly hour in Germany, where we happened to be living at the time.

I was 11; I felt proud of the U.S. for being able to do it, and think I also knew that was a little absurd of me, though I couldn’t swear to that now. I do know I was worried about the landing — and that I was also convinced I was watching history, and wouldn’t have believed so little would come of it all; I thought maybe I’d be up there someday.

I realize this puts me in the same ballpark as Charles Krauthammer, and that does worry me a little, but I don’t know why people get so proud of being tough-minded about manned space missions, and sometimes any space missions at all. ‘It’s a waste of time and money and we have poor people to feed’ blah blah like we can’t possibly do both. I understand the low benefit to cost ratio in any reasonable accounting of it; I understand people pointing that out. But when they act like that’s all there is to say I feel a little sad for them.

As for the video: I learned about the tough landing choices later on, but not about the computer malfunction. Armstrong really seems to have been the guy with the right stuff for the mission.

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BAFFLED “TECHNICAL NOTE”: I actually tried to submit this sometime last night at the original YouTube page — nothing happened; I clicked again — nothing happened again. Now here it is. I’ve deleted the other one.

UPDATE, 7/24: The online science fiction magazine Tor.com held a “Moon Landing Day” (and not coincidentally its first anniversary) with reminiscences by at least two dozen authors and editors, including Greg Bear, Nancy Kress, Larry Niven, the Nielsen Haydens and others — each illuminated by original NASA photographs that make the visit doubly rewarding. The introduction by Torie Atkinson is my introduction to her; it’s very well done, with links to NASA and other sites commemorating the occasion. Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden (“Making Light”).

3 Responses to “Apollo 11, The True Story of the Lunar Landing”

  1. RobertNAtl Says:

    I’m *still* proud of the U.S. for being able to do it.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I’m almost prouder of Americans for wanting to be able to do it. It was a great achievement; it was a great goal to set. In that Americans cared about the outcome, I think that said something very good about the country and that generation — at a time when so much else was going wrong.

    Still, in that respect I also make deductions for the Cold War military and propaganda utility of the program. You and I may have felt and still feel warm and fuzzy about exploring the moon, but I suspect that here in DC it was also very much connected to advancing missile engineering and to making rockets — otherwise, instruments of doom — feel good to the public.

    What I was trying to say with “absurd” is that it can feel absurd to me to feel proud of something I played no role in myself. It’s a little like celebrating a pro sports team championship — you either get swept up in it, or you make the mistake of thinking ‘actually, I had nothing to do with this.’ Like I wrote, I couldn’t swear to thinking that at the time; for one thing, I don’t always think that way even now.

  3. RobertNAtl Says:

    Funny that you, of all people, should say that about pro sports teams, when it was *our* cheering that is widely credited for eventually nudging the Braves past the Indians in the 1995 World Series. (Remember? “Hey, Manny, you SUCK!”)

    Seriously, if America gets blamed for (pick one: Guantanamo, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Vietnam, global warming, resource depletion, colonialism, slavery, etc., etc.), can’t we at least give ourselves, collectively, a little credit for landing on the moon?

    (Not to mention Tang?)

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