Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Careful Composure 7/21/09

Nothing great was ever done without much enduring.

St. Catherine of Siena
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I'm standing by.
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Anyone who often reads Vagabond Journeys knows that I am a champion of the common man, a believer in the value, beauty and genius of the ordinary, everyday, average human being. I do not underestimate the remarkable achievements by remarkable people. But I am willing to recognize that my friends and neighbors are capable of remarkable things if the situation demands.

Yesterday I watched the celebration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The three astronauts involved all spoke. I noticed that none of them were very good public speakers. There were no orators in the group. But then I thought Why should there be? They are scientists, engineers, technicians and pilots. Oratory is not their game.

When Neil Armstrong came forward to speak he received a standing ovation from the audience. Again I wondered why he did and not the other two. Was it because he had done something remarkable that the others didn't do, or was it simply that he was the first person to do it. His name will go down in history as a great explorer. And yet when he spoke he showed himself to be an ordinary guy, like me.

Frequently the astronauts speak of the many thousands of people involved in the space flight history, of the thousands of nameless workers, ordinary folks like me, whose contributions made it possible for someone to walk on the moon.

Something else is talked of also, and that is the spirit of the Apollo program which inspired people to do their best, to dream, solve problems, design and build equipment and to make sure all the procedures were correctly carried out.

In his talk Armstrong uttered an amazing and troubling fact. He revealed that it was a mere 66 years between the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. That's a amazing time line. Only 66 years. But it has been 40 years since the moon landing. What has happened since? The Apollo astronauts are old men now but they say they expected the program to continue to the moon and beyond.

I guess the International Space Station is a grand accomplishment, but, as someone pointed out, it's basically a political one. It doesn't have as much to do with space exploration as the Hubble Telescope. Why have 40 years gone by without further exploration? What happened to the spirit of Apollo? And what was that spirit in the first place.

Watching the Apollo 11 astronauts speak I wondered what it was that motivated those men to stuff themselves into a minute flying machine to go on a long journey they might not survive. The answer came listening to them and to others speak on the subject. There were two qualities that all explorers have had since humans first went where no one else had been: curiosity and willingness to risk one's life.

It is clear that taking off in a spaceship is risky business no matter what, but is risking one's life to install a battery in the space station the same as risking one's life to step on the moon? I don't think so.

Another quality the astronauts have is endurance, sticking to the job until it's done. In the case of the Apollo flights, it meant living in extremely cramped quarters for many days. A trip to Mars would mean living that way for months. How many people have the composure to do that? I don't think I do. I don't even like being on a bus for more than an hour. How long did it take Columbus and crew to travel on small, wooden bottomed boats to get here? We know what year he did it but I don't know how long it took. Do you?

(There are still some blank headed people who believe, like the Holocaust deniers, that the moon walks never happened, that it's all a hoax, . Sure, and Columbus never set foot on a new land either. His ship fell off the edge of the earth and we are not really here.)

Curiosity. Courage. Endurance. Those are the keys to our future. And we should get on with it.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
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Pardon my polemics, please.
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6 comments:

Bonnie Bonsai said...

Oh DB, I could not help laughing at the end of your journal. I was not laughing at you but to the humour addressed to the skeptics.

The life I grew up with was kind of a vagabond journey having come from a military family. So all the discomforts just what those astrounauts had to put up with were experienced with much endurance, curiosity as part of the elements you enumerated in your conclusion.

Glad that you know how to empathize with people who are ordinary. Achievements or accomplishments need not be of grandiose scale for us humans not to be able to attain and not for others to appreciate let alone recognize.

History can never be forgotten. Always, am drawing interest in anything you write. Thank you so much.

Cheers!

Jon said...

Fascinating and extremely apt observations. I have nothing to add - just wanted you to know I was here!

Beth said...

Have you ever read The Right Stuff or seen the movie? Both are fascinating glimpses into the early days of astronauts.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Not sure about Columbus, but I believe it took months to cross the ocean. As for Mars, I believe it is more like 18 months, minimum.

Cathy said...

Polemics duly pardoned. This was a very honest post, I related to almost every word, having watched the same interviews and celebratory films yesterday you did. I have to say first, the "spirit" of space exploration has never truly diminished - it's those people whose names we never know, the ones of whom you speak, who've been tirelessly working toward the James Webb, the Mars exploration projects, the Titan voyages - and let's not forget all those who've lobbied for ages for the money needed to keep NASA and JPL alive. You're right though, as was Mr. Armstrong - so many unimportant things get more priority. Still, we're moving ahead faster and farther than at any time in our history of discovery. A completely new and more technologically savvy generation has sprung up since Apollo. You know DB, I think I understand why Neil got all the glory - instead of Allan Shepard who got there first, but didn't stop to play golf. Did you know Armstrong was the astronaut chosen to make that journey, and the good people in WA decided it was so risky they sent Shepard instead because Armstrong represented more the "all-American (Christian) male" and they didn't want to risk him - true! Politics. Still, they were all as you say, ordinary Joes who did their job. When things got hairy their training kicked right in, notice that? It begs the question: Was the mission more special than the men? I'd have to say yes. Which is why, long after memorials are built to Apollo 11, we'll always have little boys and girls gazing up at the night sky and wondering...

Big Mark 243 said...

Still, they were all as you say, ordinary Joes who did their job. When things got hairy their training kicked right in, notice that? It begs the question: Was the mission more special than the men? I'd have to say yes. Which is why, long after memorials are built to Apollo 11, we'll always have little boys and girls gazing up at the night sky and wondering...

Cathy said that ... and I agree with her!