On Tuesday, February 20, 1962, I sat with others in a classroom in a Bronx classroom and listened to John Glenn orbiting the Earth (or so my faulty memory tells me).
This was the first time any American had accomplished that feat. In those days, when someone was shot into space, everyone stopped what they were doing (as much as possible) and listened to the event on radio or TV.
It was the age of heroes, men and women both. These rockets, besides taking people into space, were also somewhat prone to blowing up. But when they didn't, these brave men rode into destiny. Watch, if you have the time, this six minute video of John Glenn in orbit.
I invite you to read the obituary the New York Times wrote for John Glenn (link in my first paragraph).
His heroism didn't end with that 1962 first orbit mission. He returned to space - when he was 77 years old.
Glenn sold his private plane when he was 90. He and his wife couldn't make it inside anymore.
They are all gone now, the first group of seven men chosen so many years ago to take the United States into space. Glenn was the last man standing.
What has come of our space program? I invite you to read this post from August 25, 2012, when the first man on the moon died.
A man in a bulky suit edged out of a craft, and his voice crackled on the TV. He stepped on the ground.
"One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind."
That man, Neil Armstrong, died today.
No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong. Too many jokes recently about people who confuse the two men.
As far as I know, Neil Armstrong never won a bicycle race. Come to think of it, Lance has now won several fewer than just a few days ago. But I digress.
No. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Today, when we can Skpe friends halfway around the world, when we can email and Facebook instantaneously with people all over Earth - we haven't sent a woman or a man to the moon since the 1970's.
I am sad for so many reasons. Maybe it is because I realize that many people really don't understand what happened that day in 1969, or care. We have lost our will and no longer look to the stars. We now depend on the Russians, our former enemies, to get us into space.
We have technology now years and years ahead of the technology of the first Star Trek TV series, just as one example. Many of us own smart phones that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would have envied. True, we don't have transporters or starships.
But we don't have much of a space program, either.
In 1969, who would have thought?
Our hero astronauts of the 1960's are aging. One day they will be dead.
No more giant leaps. No more small steps.
The people must want the space program to continue. And right now, they don't.
Times are tough. We look inward, not outward. Perhaps that is what happens when times are tough. But I don't know about that. We finished the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC during the American Civil War. We built the Empire State Building in New York City (so in the news after yesterday's nearby shooting) during the Great Depression.
I truly hope we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown. Hard times never stopped us before.
Only time will tell.
Do you remember the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs? Or is it just history/meaningless history to you?