Yet Another Journal

Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans,
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» Thursday, July 16, 2009
Moonstruck
Kids my age grew up in the Space Age.

In the late 50s, before we remembered anything, there was Sputnik, Disney's space-themed programs, Explorer I. Then came the communications and weather satellites—Echo, Tiros, Nimbus, Telstar—the great granddaddies of the technology that is bringing me the NASA Channel as I munch my lunch and uploading my memories to the internet. Funny, primitive communication in beeps and then grainy photos.

Suddenly it was the early 60s and men were going into space, and we were watching it all on television. In our classrooms a black-and-white television on a cart—the school "audio-visual department" along with the filmstrip and movie projectors—was wheeled into the classroom and we watched live coverage of the astronauts.

But this wasn't just a school assignment for me. I was wildly in love with anything space. I remember with great affection a coloring/fact book about the planets that I had. The space missions were an endless source of excitement. Oh, I had the usual kid aberrations—I still was disgruntled if space coverage pre-empted my favorite programs!—but mostly I was glued to the television. My mom even let me "play sick" during the Apollo 12 mission, although I was confined to bed and had to watch the coverage on my 12-inch black-and-white television. (Sadly, we didn't get a color television until after the Apollo missions were over.) Of course there wasn't any coverage of that moonwalk since the television camera messed up after being aimed into the sun, but it was great just to sit there and listen to it.

Most archival footage you see of the moon missions includes Walter Cronkite, whose enthusiasm for the space program was well known. I have to confess, except for changing channels during commercials, we were dedicated NBC-coverage watchers. I mostly remember Frank McGee and I'm pretty sure a young John Chancellor, with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley doing the hosting honors. A peculiar, favorite memory was one of the commercials, most of them with a space theme, but one was for Exxon, with film of a tanker ship and a rousing Irish chorus who sang about "sailin' into Bantry Bay, bringin' home the oil." I found out much later via e-mail correspondence that the singer was the famous Tommy Makem (I believe accompanied by the Clancy Brothers; I've since lost the e-mail).

Of course my love of space was always supplanted by books! I bought John Noble Wilford's We Reach the Moon and Richard Lewis' Appointment on the Moon almost as soon as they were published, a great hardship to my budget since my allowance was 25¢ a week back then and big fat paperback nonfiction books like those cost the princely sum of 75¢! But they were worth it, even if at 12 I couldn't quite understand some the scientific jargon in the latter book. (The Wilford book was more of a narrative for laymen, while the Lewis was more technical, but they were a nice counterpoint to each other since the Wilford book only briefly skimmed early orbital flight and the Mercury/Gemini programs, while the Lewis book was the opposite, going all the way back to Goddard and the V-2s of Peenemünde.)

So I'm really enjoying all the anniversary items that are showing up on the NASA Channel between coverage of the shuttle Endeavour mission, including a neat one about the restoration of the coverage footage, as well as the real-time mission on wechoosethemoon.org, which I've been listening to all day: the launch, the staging, the burn putting the spacecraft on a lunar trajectory, and most recently the separation and docking of the command module with the lunar module. The space shuttle is cool, but there was nothing like the excitement of those old moon missions. I hope I live long enough to see us take the first steps to Mars.

It may be time to pull out "Spider" again, too. :-)

Meanwhile, here's some other links for your perousal:

§ NASA Apollo Pages

§ From Doughnuts to Liftoff, Apollo 11 Launch Was Blast

§ Space Program and Television

And ::sigh:: apparently those original films were erased after all:

§ NASA Marks Apollo 11 Anniversary

The restorations look wicked cool, though!

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