Forty-one years ago today I was sitting on the floor of my parents' living room in San Jose, California, watching the first moon landing. This would be the first time in human history that a human being would set foot on another heavenly body. We were aghast at the gravity of this undertaking...and that we were alive and present to witness it, an event comparable to Columbus's discovery of America, the Wright Brothers first flight, and many other historical events.
It was scary, watching the Apollo 11 lunar lander make its descent to the surface of the moon. The landing was televised live and we were glued to the television set. I could see dust kicking up from the lander's exhaust, my heart beating in my throat. Then the dust stopped and I heard Neil Armstrong say, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." I slapped my hand hard against the hardwood floor and yelled, "THEY'RE ON THE MOON!"
We watched Neil Armstrong climb down the ladder on the side of the lunar lander, where he tested the surface with his toe, then made full contact with the surface. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," he said. Soon Edwin Aldrin joined him, and we watched them frolic on the lunar surface, bouncing around in the lower gravity, planting the flag and setting up equipment.
When the television coverage was over, I went outside of the house and looked up into the sky. It was still daylight, but I could see the moon. It looked like a white potato chip against the blue sky. The moon looked like it always did, but it was different somehow.
"They're up there," I said to myself. The inviolability of the moon was a thing of the past. It now belonged to Man.
Note: I once saw a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institute. It included some moon rocks from one of the NASA missions. They were a light yellow/white in color, somewhat translucent, like quartz.
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