July 20, 1969
The Apollo program took place at just about the right time for me. I was six (or, as I would quickly have pointed out at the time, six *and a half*) when the first lunar landing occurred, and barely ten when Apollo 17 splashed down. This was old enough to be fascinated by the technology and the sheer coolness (I would not have known the words “audacity” or “chutzpah”), and too young to question the wisdom of the project given the pressing alternative terrestrial uses for the funds. It’s funny that what my brain decided to remember, and what society made iconic or controversial do not really coincide. I distinctly remember the Apollo 8 launch, but nothing of the reading from the book of Genesis. I watched the Apollo 11 launch, but I don’t specifically recall Armstrong’s first steps. In all cases, I was glued to the TV for the launch and splashdown. Oddly, these more than the flight to (or activities on) the moon brought to mind the vast scale of the project. Launches always included references to tracking stations in Australia — a vast distance away for the 6-8 year-old mind. Splashdowns involved a whole aircraft carrier! This truly was big stuff.
Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz held my interest, but the shuttle never did. Viking, with actual color pictures of Mars, got things back on track, but it was clear that no human would set foot on Mars for some time. The sense of purpose just was not there the way it was for Apollo, and it hasn’t been since. It’s hard to know whether the undertone of loss I feel when thinking about Apollo is an effect of time — I am no longer the wide-eyed boy — or of a recognition of what might have been, but was not, due to the disintegration of the consensus that allowed Apollo to succeed.