I was an astronaut in the 1960’s. Our launch facility in Western Pennsylvania was incredibly busy from 1963 to April 1972. We were cutting edge at the time. Not only did we have unlimited supplies of oxygen and “space” food, we journeyed well beyond the moon to find planets that even NASA had not discovered yet.
The spaceship we used was cleverly disguised as a separated garage behind our house on Duncan Station Road and the module was big enough for the imaginations of the neighborhood crew. It also doubled as the place where some of us discovered the secrets of life but that is another story for another time.
When John F. Kennedy told us that we would reach the moon by the end of the decade, I think every wide eyed boy (and girl) made the assumption that they would be included in the trip. I know I did. The idea of doing something with that much adventure involved was the ultimate fantasy for a young kid. I had read Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Gulliver’s Travels, and every Horatio Hornblower novel I could get my hands on. The space program was just an extension of what it would have been like to be one of those adventurers.
We watched the first landing on the moon with great anticipation. I am sure I realized the significance of all of the “firsts” that were achieved in that landing, but we had ABC news science commentator Jules Bergman to give us moment by moment reminders of everything that could go wrong. That probably pumped up our adrenaline as much as seeing the actual live footage on the TV in our living room.
By 1972, the trips had become routine. American scientists had overthought every safety issue and even though it was still an adventure, we had grown a bit passive about what could happen in the dark confines of space. Our garage spacecraft had also morphed into just another place to hang out. We were now teens and the wide eyed excitement of being locked in a spacecraft for hours was now replaced by kids who were too cool for the imaginary trips they once looked forward to while sitting in school.
The actual trip to the Descartes Highlands was the first and only trip to the highlands and yielded tons of new scientific data that challenged almost every hypothesis about the area for the experts.
Back on earth, University of Maryland students blocked major highways in protest of the increased bombing in Vietnam. Nixon’s Vietnamization program had removed most of the ground troops by that time in 1972 but the need for increased bombings to counter the NVA incursions sent a shiver through the Paris Peace talks, the streets of America and the halls of every involved government around the world.
The news of the increased military activity entered our house and our former spaceship. Two days from April 21, it would come home to all of my fellow space travellers. Be sure to stop back on April 23rd and share the beginning of the next part of the story.
Fast forward to 2012. We no longer look at the moon with any sort of ambition. Maybe it’s because there really is nothing there other than achieving a dream. Maybe the expense is no longer justifiable to a country that is mired in more debt than it has held in its entire history. Maybe we just lost the dream.
The Russians and Chinese have not. Others look longingly to the sky and see new adventures wrapped with self serving opportunities. Whoever learns to transit the vast differences can control the future of mankind. Weapons alone will not do it. Money and gold are also fleeting and their value can be manipulated to change their impact at any time. The one thing that controls destiny through all eternity is the will to translate dreams into reality.
When you stop dreaming, you become a slave to whatever reality and limitations you are told by the dream killers.
We have always been great as a nation because we have had dreamers like the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Lucky Lindy, Thomas Edison, Cyrus McCormick, and on and on. You kill those dreams by having a government so intrusive that there is no room for dreaming. You smash those dreams with regulations that are so restrictive that flight can never leave the ground in fear of the very act it was designed to do. You destroy those dreams when you destroy initiative because one boy or girl might have hurt feelings because another is faster, smarter, or more clever than another.
Somewhere tonight, if the sky is clear, a little boy or girl will look up and not see a series of randomly placed stars and planets. That dreamer will look up and see a dream and perhaps an opportunity for another adventure. My dream is that the land that was once the land of hope and opportunity can regain its place in supporting that dream.
Rise up once more to the stars young pilot
Rise up into the black night among the million guiding stars
Fueled by the dreams of the ages
That push you oh so far