Forty years ago today I was in Ohio. In a bit more than a month, I was going to be going to junior high for the first time. And my dad would be leaving to go to Viet Nam for the second time (he was career Air Force). On the night of July 20, 1969 we all gathered around the television and watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step out of the lunar module to walk around on the moon. For my parents, the thing that amazed them most about the event was the fact that we were watching it happen on live TV–that NASA could actually broadcast the signal all the way back from the moon. Recall that it had only been seven years previously that the first relay style communications satellite had gone into orbit. Before that, it hadn’t even been possible to get live TV signals from Europe. Only seven years later, we were seeing live TV from the moon!
John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. Seven years later, Americans were walking on the moon. That was 40 years ago. The last time Americans–or anyone–strolled on the moon was December, 1972. Nearly thirty-six years ago. In that time, we’ve sent probes to all the planets in the solar system. Three satellites and two rovers are currently at Mars. Casinni circles Saturn. MESSENGER is nearing orbit of Mercury. A European satellite orbits Venus. And thirteen people are now aboard the International Space Station, the largest space craft ever obrited, with an internal volume equal to a large four bedroom house.