Sunday, June 28, 2009

We Choose to Go to the Moon

On July 15, 1969, something momentous happened to me. I became a teenager.

The next day, July 16th, something momentous happened to everyone. They launched Apollo 11, taking the first astronauts to land on the Moon.

I've always loved everything to do with the Moon landings and space exploration in general and I've thoroughly enjoyed all the commemorative programmes being shown on television at the moment, with the fortieth (sighhhh) anniversary coming up. To me, visiting the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida last year was not so much a dream come true, as what seemed to me to be an impossible fantasy come true: I truly never, ever thought I'd go there.

As part of the commemorative programmes, they keep showing that clip of President Kennedy, speaking at the Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas on a very hot day, September 12, 1962. He says,

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard - -

So, I wondered - and have wondered for years! - what are the other things?

Thanks to the wonders of t'interclacker, I found the whole speech.

He's been talking about climbing the highest mountain, and flying across the Atlantic, and those kind of things are the "other things" to which he refers.

It's a great speech. Watching it now, it's interesting to see the faces of the people watching. For a long time they're not really listening. They are just thinking one word and it's HOT. They've all put their best suits on for the President and it's TOO HOT. The poor chap on the right hand side of the screen looks about to melt - he mops his brow about a million times.

It's only towards the end of the speech that some of them seem to pick up on the excitement of the idea of putting a man on the moon - - and even then, it's hard to tell. They might just have been thinking "Hurrah, it'll soon be over and we can go and get a cold drink".

President Kennedy, of course, was cool, the kind of cool President that we've not had since then, until the current one. Cool in all ways, he seems completely untroubled by the heat It's a well-written, powerful speech and on he goes, sounding as though he knows it's momentous, even though the watching crowds don't really seem to.

He mentions the Russians, of course, because this was at the time of the Cold War and showing the Russians who was Top Nation was a big part of the space programme. He says that the USA is going to do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out. But, apart from the Cold War references, the speech sounds so modern in some ways that it's hard to take in that it was nearly fifty years ago. And, of course, it all happened - - he says that there's going to be

a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.

And they built it! And I've seen it! The Vehicle Assembly Building!

Most importantly, of course, men walked on the Moon. It still amazes me.

Here's the full text of the speech.

Of course - and it's hard to take it in, watching this speech - President Kennedy never heard Neil Armstrong saying it's a small step for man but a giant leap for mankind, because of course President Kennedy was assassinated; shot dead in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

Where was I when I heard the news? In the kitchen of this house, where I had my breakfast this morning.

I may be a Woman of a Certain Age heading towards Bearded Lady territory - - but hey, I feel sorry for those who weren't around to experience the excitement of the Apollo missions. There's never been anything like it, and I don't think there will be again.


Blogger tony said...

Yes.It's still amazing that it happened.The day sci-fi became sci-fact.

2:37 pm  
Blogger Arthur Clewley said...

come on now daphne, we've all seen 'Capricorn One' - the whole thing was done in a TV studio next door to Rowan and martin's laugh in - you can even see Goldie Hawn in Neil armstrong's visor reflection in some footage

3:00 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

18 months earlier, he had made a similar speech to Congress with the more precise and, at the time, much more ambitious objective :

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish"

That set the deadline and that it was achieved within it, was a tribute to the skill of many thousands of people, the bravery of a select few and a fair amount of pure luck.

3:07 pm  
Blogger Debby said...

I have to think, in these times, that money could be well spent elsewhere.

I remember trying to stay awake to watch the first step on the moon. I don't think I made it. It was exciting at the time, still is really, but I'm not sure it's what our country needs at this moment.

My two cents worth of course.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Kippers Dickie said...

Debby is right.
Well, I think she is right.
When all is right on this earth, and all are fed and have homes and peace......then maybe that is the time to waste/spend trillions on something, that although, technically brilliant, cannot have solved a fraction of our earthly problems.
Would you buy new clothes when your children are hungry?

7:50 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:22 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:01 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:10 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

I would love to have been caught up in the excitement of it all and I agree, doubt we'll see something similar to that again. Possibly the build up to Millennium was a bit like that, I don't know.

9:20 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Tony - yes, I agree. Well put!
Arthur - I think your tongue is firmly in your cheek but I will be looking for Goldie from now on. Sock it to those astronauts!
Debby - I can see what you're saying, because now a lot of people even in the USA are having a really hard time. When Kennedy made that speech, times were different. Although I strongly believe in the space programme, the tone of the speech would not be appropriate now.

9:56 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

The old arguments about spending the money elsewhere don't work for me, sorry.

For two interesting takes on this, try here and here.

If NASA was closed down I don't think the money would end up improving any of the world's ills.

On the other hand the benefits from the space programme are very real, they are just hard (perhaps impossible) to quantify. And no, I don't mean Teflon or Velcro, but better farm productivity, improved education, better quality goods, and many others.

10:24 pm  
Blogger menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Interesting post. I don't much rate the space programme these days with all the poverty issues in the USA and in particular poor housing and the lack of hospital care for the uninsured. But, I do remember the awe and wonderment of the moon landings and how anything seemed possible. The Kennedy's don't excite me either - much too arrogant and were strong supporters of the IRA by collecting massive amounts of money for Noraid. But JFK has his place in history and I can't say much more than that!

I like your blog and you write well. Thanks for popping by mine. Nice to get to read a good Yorkshire lass like yourself!

2:47 am  
OpenID edgeofeurope said...

I was just looking at the speech, and I had the exact same question that you had, all these years. The other things.
I wasn't born until right after the Moon landings, so I don't have personal recollections of President Kennedy. Which is probably why listening to him made me think of Mayor Quimby of The Simpsons.

7:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I feel sorry for those who weren't around to experience the excitement of the Apollo missions. There's never been anything like it, and I don't think there will be again."

-- A bit pretentious and myopic don't you think.

12:00 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

No, Anonymous, of course I don't think that it was "pretentious and myopic" since I wrote it!
Those were my genuine feelings: I meant it, absolutely - there has never, for me and for millions of others, been anything so exciting, that made so many people share the same excitement. It was in a decade where anything seemed possible, and I don't think there'll ever be that collective excitement again.
So I stand completely by what I wrote - you may choose to disagree, of course. Perhaps you're too young to remember - - or perhaps you were around and you didn't feel it. In which case yes, I feel sorry for you.

1:00 am  

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