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A bit of 1969 died yesterday

The 1960s are hot, judging by the number of Hendrix covers I’ve heard over the summer and tie-dye themed events I’ve been invited to. I wasn’t around for it, but 1969 always seemed like such an iconic time: Nixon, Vietnam, Woodstock, and especially the first Moon landing.

I’ve always been jealous of 1969. All my life, it’s pissed me off that I’ve never been able to watch a live Moon landing. The technology was within the reach of folks wearing bell-bottoms and love beads, but not us? With our quad-core processors and superconductors, we could have the Moon wired for WiFi if we really wanted to. Instead, Internet-Age 2012 doesn’t even have a Space Shuttle. Meanwhile, a nation of hippies led by a soon-to-be impeached president sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon and back!

The consolation has always been that we have the grainy video images, the Moon rocks, and the astronauts themselves. We can at least boast that we share a planet with human beings who have walked on another world, and they can tell us about their experiences. Except that our heroes from 1969 and the early 1970s keep getting old and dying. Yesterday, we lost Neil Armstrong, which brings us down to (by my count) just eight living Apollo astronauts who once set foot on the Moon.

  • Buzz Aldrin (1930-)
  • Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)
  • Alan Bean (1932-)
  • Eugene Cernan (1934-)
  • Pete Conrad (1930-1999)
  • Charles Duke (1935-)
  • James Irwin (1930-1991)
  • Edgar Mitchell (1930-)
  • Harrison Schmitt (1935-)
  • David Scott (1932-)
  • Alan Shepard (1923-1998)
  • John Young (1930-)

Unless we get moving on another round of manned space exploration, that number will drop to zero in our lifetimes.

Chart of living humans who have walked on another world, by year.

I had that in mind when I sent Tyler and his friends to the Moon in The Challengers. My hope is that kids reading that scene will want to go to the Moon as much as I always have, and maybe they will pursue careers in science to get them there. Or at the very least, they will grow up to be scientifically literate adults who believe strongly in NASA’s mission and vote for politicians who support it. I can’t drive a bus to the Moon, but I’m willing to get out and push.

February 2018
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