Tag Archives: moon mission

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

Absent a NASA-sponsored effort, this is pretty cool

I normally would look with bemusement at a stunt that occurred today. Instead, though, I am utterly amazed at what I saw.

Elon Musk — a South Africa-born U.S. business tycoon — has this notion of building a colony on Mars. He has developed a rocket that he hopes will ferry human beings to the Red Planet eventually.

Today, he launched the largest rocket built since the Saturn V rocket launched astronauts to the moon from 1969 until 1972. The monstrous SpaceX rocket took off, jettisoned its boosters, which then made a soft landing near the launch pad from which NASA used to launch missions to the moon.

But … here’s the amazing part of the story.

The rocket carried a Tesla hot rod atop it and that vehicle — with a spacesuit-clad mannequin in the driver’s seat — is in Earth orbit. It will take off eventually on a lengthy trip around the sun. Musk plans to keep the car in space for a million years. He said maybe some extraterrestrials will find it. Maybe.

My preference, of course, would be for NASA to launch these missions. I want the federal government to get back into manned space exploration. I’m old-fashioned that way, you know?

Absent a NASA-sponsored and financed operation, though, I welcome Elon Musk’s investment in this kind of exploration.

Hey, a guy with $20 billion in his portfolio can afford the expense — and it provides a heck of a show to boot.

Happy 92nd birthday, Alan Shepard Jr.

alan shepard

OK, so he’s no longer alive to celebrate it but I couldn’t let pass an item that I stumbled upon this morning.

The late Alan Shepard Jr. was born 92 years ago today.

Shepard enlivened a nation, invigorated our national psyche and gave us a sense of mission at a time when we needed it.

He did it simply by riding atop a rocket for a 15-minute ride into outer space. He splashed down a few hundred miles off the Florida coast into the Atlantic Ocean.

I was a youngster at the time. On May 5, 1961, when Shepard took off aboard that Redstone rocket, I was just 12. But I was fascinated, along with the rest of the country, by the notion of human beings flying into space.

The Soviet Union — which would be known later as the Evil Empire — had beaten us into space. Yuri Gagarin had orbited Earth a month before Shepard took off. The Soviets were beating us at our own game! President Kennedy would have none of it.

Shepard’s flight didn’t measure up to Gagarin’s orbit in the strictest sense, but it didn’t matter to a nation itching to get into the space race. Shepard’s successful flight put us in the thick of the fight.

He got another shot at space travel. A decade later Shepard commanded Apollo 14’s mission to the moon and hit that famous golf shot from the moon’s surface that flew for “miles and miles.”

I miss those days. I wish we could find it within our national spirit to insist on manned space flight. We’re now sending our astronauts into space aboard ships launched by our former arch-enemy; it’s called “Russia” these days, now that the Soviet Union has disintegrated.

Our space agency is developing a deep-space vehicle that eventually will take future pioneers to places like Mars and perhaps to the asteroid belt.

Is there national excitement as we await that day? Uhh, no.

We’re left to remember when gutsy test pilots such as Alan Shepard squeezed into tiny space capsules and flew aboard those relatively itty-bitty rockets. He gave us a national thrill that we haven’t duplicated in quite some time.

I hope I’m alive to see the first flight to Mars.

Meanwhile, happy birthday to a man former President Bill Clinton once described as “one of the great heroes of modern America.”