Where Were You on that Day?

inkwellMay 26, 2010, The Shuttle Endeavor landed today for the last time. Two more missions for the shuttle fleet before an era comes to an end.

Another day that has long been termed as one of the most historic in human endeavor is July 19, 1969, 41 years ago. That’s the day man left the earth and landed on another celestial body, earth’s own moon. While most of the credit goes to the United States and President Kennedy’s bold vision where he announced in his famous speech that “before the decade is out, man shall leave the earth, go to the moon and return safely” (paraphrasing), in many ways it was an international collaboration both in the planning, development and the execution of that historic event.

For a split moment, the whole world stopped in wonderment in front of television sets everywhere, to watch the flickering black and white images transmitted back from nearly a quarter million miles away of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the Moon and declaring, the now infamous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was such an electrifying event to mankind, that if you were a teen or older, you would have had a clear recollection of that day. The question is WhereWasWe, and how did that day impact on us and our psyche. Did it change your life or outlook?

For me, it was certainly a special day and an impactful event. Married 10 months and on our first vacation together as a new married couple we planned to spend our two weeks vacation camping in the wilderness campgrounds of Ontario, Canada. Camping because as newlyweds, in new jobs, discretionary funds were in limited supply and camping fit the budget. Wilderness because this is 1969; campgrounds were quite primitive by today’s standards; devoid of all today’s conveniences, showers, flush toilets, power, convenience stores, for cigarettes or nachos. None of that. We’re talking pre – lithium battery, ipod, cell phone; and “blackberries” were sweet and eaten by black bears.

On the road to the Canadian north, a couple of days into our wilderness trek, listening to My Sweet Caroline, by Neil Diamond on the AM car radio, I overheard the announcer offer a reminder of the moon landing the next day. Panic engulfed me. I wanted desperately to watch the landing. My wife, less excited by some dumb “moon thing”, didn’t seem concerned about missing such mundane event. I spent the next several hours of our trip convincing her to spend, money we ill could afford on a motel room, not for some romantic encounter, but to watch TV.

A few hours prior to the fateful moment, we settle into our tiny room of this wayward roadside motel that was clearly in the twilight of its career. It was the stereotypical “seedy” motel room you see in black and white movies made in the 1950s. Now we would call it “charming”. Memory has a way of turning sepia into Technicolor. In retrospect it clearly would be best suited for a “romantic interlude” and a pre-marital one at that.

We grabbed a burger from the diner next door and took it back to den of inequity, settled in to get ready for NASA and the broadcast from the moon. I went to turn on the TV. Oh! Oh! No picture. Panic strikes again. No TV! No Moon Walk and the wrath upon me, for blowing $20 bucks on a room to watch TV on a set that has no picture. In a panic I hurried to the front desk, which looked more like the living room of the owner. I conveyed my dilemma to the person between me and my moon walk. She said, “Its Saturday night, our repair guy is off duty.” To this day, I suspect the repair guy was standing next to her, in the disguise of husband. Demanding my money back, even if successful, would not have resolved my need to find a TV in the wilderness in the next hour. Taking pity on me, the owners offered to let us watch the moon walk on the lobby TV with them, convincing me that it was their living room.

The TV was black & white, the reception was poor, the picture did flicker, the content fuzzy and stark, but the commentary and the minds imagination created an indelible image in full Technicolor, (the only type of color we had in those days). The enormity of event, my attempt to grasp the achievement was truly awe inspiring, coupled with the commentary that billions of people are all watching worldwide. By contrast the landing of the shuttle Endeavour at Cape Canaveral today, (which by the way, as a glider landed to the exact minute it was advertised to land), only got a brief sound bite.

After many hours of watching the landing module on the screen doing nothing, we said our good nights to our hosts in the “lobby” and decided to retire. Back in the room, with no TV, we committed the room to its natural reason for existence, the romantic interlude and blissful sleep. What a three act play.

Ever since that day I have an insatiable fascination with the cosmos and an unshakeable faith in man’s ability to excel and exceed it own expectations. Romantic interludes; they too continue to inspire.

So, if you are an early “boomer” or older; where were you and what were you doing on July 19, 1969. If you saw the “moon landing and subsequent moon walk” did it change you or your outlook? end

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