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Apollo 11's promise of bigger things lives on

It was a time of great promise. The start of something bigger.

Now, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission, some of that promise seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Sure, we have the space shuttle. But ushering my two daughters outside last week to catch a glimpse of its lingering white trail as it headed for the International Space Station proved to be a rather anticlimactic moment, even as we heaved a sigh of relief and mumbled a quick prayer for its safe return before heading indoors to watch the recap in high-def.

No way could that touch the breathless anticipation millions of us felt all those years ago when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off from Cape Canaveral to embark on man's first walk on the moon.

That romp, marked in history with a collection of rocks, some grainy film footage and Armstrong's prophetic words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," would no doubt lead us to conquer a new and exciting frontier.

Space travel would be a given, some of us thought. The moon would be a summer vacation spot, or perhaps a fueling stop, for those on their way to Mars or Venus. We youngsters would grow up to be like the cartoon folks on the Jetsons, spiriting to other galaxies in our own personal spacecrafts.

At 9:32 a.m. Thursday, the exact moment of that awesome ascent 40 years ago, I used my Toshiba laptop computer to visit WeChooseTheMoon.org so I could watch an animated version of the historical launch and listen to the "actual time" conversations between the then-astronauts and Mission Control in Houston.

A few minutes later, I watched old NASA footage of the actual launch via YouTube on my 18-year-old daughter's Apple iPod Touch.

"This is actually pretty cool," said my daughter, as she accessed Twitter to follow the "actual time" conversations.

It was, but I still couldn't muster a sliver of the excitement I felt on July 20, 1969, the day before my 11th birthday, when we gathered around our old black-and-white Motorola TV to watch Armstrong and Aldrin planting the American flag on the moon.

So I called my dad on my cell phone — the one that has more processing power than the computers on the Apollo 11 spacecraft did — to commiserate.

"You know we were having trouble with the Russians back then," he said.

"I remember Kennedy talking about sending a man to the moon. I was really amazed that they could actually do that."

"Me, too," I said, noting how disappointed I was to not be flitting about like the Jetsons and planning a summer vacation on the moon. "I really thought we'd be there by now."

"You've still got time to go, kid," he told me, then shared some of the remarkable progress he has witnessed in his 82 years.

Like being 11 or 12 years old and rushing outside to watch the airship Hindenburg fly over his home in Rockland, Mass., in 1932 only to hear later that it had burned and crashed over New Jersey. How in his teens family entertainment meant sitting around the radio listening to mystery shows like The Shadow.

No one could even imagine being able to watch something like that on television, never mind in something called high definition.

"Heck, I remember when we thought we were in heaven because we had one working light bulb in the kitchen," he said, before jettisoning on to the later years when he did carpentry work at the Raytheon Company where units for the first computers were as "big as refrigerators" and filled an entire building.

Now, all these years later, here I was watching digitally enhanced footage of the Apollo 11 mission on a wireless device that fit easily into my palm.

No doubt, it was a time of great promise.

It still is.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.

Apollo 11's promise of bigger things lives on 07/19/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 19, 2009 5:55pm]

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