Corner Column


Fifty years ago.

Once you begin having clear recollections of events that far back, it’s a stark realization of the passage of time.

The retrospectives on the lunar landing a half century ago are coming at us from many quarters.

As a huge fan of the space program as a youngster, I do indeed recall exactly where I was and what I was doing as that historic giant leap for mankind occurred.

On an all-night train ride somewhere between Chicago, Ill. and Ottawa, Canada.

No TV of course.

And once we arrived at our summer camp home for the next month, we learned that the campers already on site (my sisters included) had huddled around a small, black and white TV to witness history.

I’ll spare the lengthy explanation of how I ended up on that train, on that night, heading for a summer camp instead of spending a month in Chicago (as we had two summers before). It involved the ecumenical movement and the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination riots of 1968 and summer baseball, and, well, it’s complicated.

I watched the rocket launches and capsule splashdowns with awe and wonder. A friend and I acquired telescopes along the way and spent many an evening gazing at stars and planets. He actually made it to Air Force Space Command during his career.

My toothpick and Elmer’s glue construction project in sixth grade was a failed attempt to recreate the launch platform at Cape Canaveral. So much for an engineering career.

I remember the sadness when three astronauts burned to death on the launch pad and the gripping intensity of the rescue efforts for Apollo 13.

Trips to the space centers in Houston and Florida always left me amazed at the achievements of man. And the memorial to those who gave their lives in that pursuit left a lump in my throat.

I can also recall the two shuttle disasters, one listening on the radio as the voice of mission control somehow remained calm after realizing something awful had happened, and hearing that sonic boom over Texas when the second shuttle blew apart and crashed on reentry.

I keep a stark reminder packed away somewhere. It’s an unfilled application for the journalist in space program. It was never completed, after the teacher in space lost her life in the first shuttle disaster.

Besides, I always felt like that honor should have gone automatically to CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, who chronicled those early years with a little bit of excusable bias. (just Google his name and the phrase “Go baby, go!”)

A decade ago, as the 40th anniversary perspectives of the moon landing were making the rounds, I entered the newsroom to recall and share the memories, only to realize none of the folks there had even been born in 1969. Indeed, the number of folks who have come along since then is quite large.

It’s not a distant memory to them, but none at all. They know only what history has told them, including stories from old guys like me.

It is amazing how many things in our daily lives that we take for granted were spawned from man’s great adventure beyond the skies.

Most of you walk around with a computer in your pocket or purse more powerful than what NASA engineers had at their disposal in 1969.

Who knows what those stories and advances will be in another five decades.