Forty years ago today, two Americans, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, first did what had long been considered the quintessence of the impossible: they set foot on Earth's moon.
Pop Culture's ceaseless Distract-the-Citizens Project has lately been taking an extended detour over the predictable if technically untimely demise of the King of Pederasty, and in that context it is a nice antidote to recall that "moonwalk" once meant something other than a signature dance move. On the day that this happened, forty years ago, our nation—indeed, all nations—felt as one; we felt a pride unalloyed by irony, and sensed a seriousness that has been missing from the civic sphere more lately; and we felt, briefly, that the stars—real stars, not just the metaphorical kind—were the limit.
Of course, as space travel goes, a brief visit to our own barren moon is small beer. It's but a baby step compared to the daunting task of getting a living human to another planet and back, and the merest stirring stacked against the thought of a visit to a solar system other than our own. (I've never liked science fiction's chipper vision of humans flitting between galaxies—too far removed from the mute reality of real distances for me.)
Photograph AS11-40-5927: Buzz Aldrin unloading science experiments
from the rear of the Lunar Module.
Still, it's not difficult to conjure the pure wonder of what humanity did do, forty years ago today. All any of us really has to do is remember a night outdoors, camping perhaps, nestled in the darkness, far from the masking lights of the cities, looking up at the great cathedral of the heavens and contemplating the incomprehensible gulf between ourselves and the familiar half-lit pearl that so often graces our nighttime sky. It is easy to imagine men and women so ancient they could hardly be called civilized lost in reveries at the same sight and thinking much the same thoughts. The moon was the ultimate Everest—we planted a flag and then hightailed it back to where we belong, for no real reason but because it was there. But what a thing it is to have done.
(Thanks to Rod Sainty)