Birth of a Space Cadet
December 2, 2012
I was in the first grade when Alan Shepard launched. I don't remember being aware of the Space Race before then, although my mother told me our family was in our yard one night, 3 1/2 years earlier, watching Sputnik orbit over. I do distinctly remember, on May 5th, 1961, a television being wheeled into our classroom so we could watch the launch. Whatever sub-conscious awareness I had had of events so far burst into full attention with that launch. From that day on I was hooked. Thankfully, I have never been cured of that infection. Eight years later I stood on the banks of the Indian River in Florida as I watched Apollo 11 lift off, as that white-and-black-and-red USA thing rose in motion so slow it didn't match time. As I looked through my binoculars I trembled - not at all from fear, but with excited anticipation, for surely this moment was the start of a new human epoch that would see a politically-born space age evolve into an age of space for us all. At 15, I honestly expected to be vacationing on the moon today. Having lived through those times it is impossible not to lament what could have happened but didn't. As Arthur Clarke noted, what will catch the eye of future historians is not so much that we went to the moon, but that we never went back. Rocco Petrone, a senior Apollo manager, said later, "Apollo was almost like a Renaissance, but nobody wants to confront that sort of possibility now." I know Mr. Petrone would be delighted to know he was wrong. If only he could have met remarkable people like Elon Musk. You know, we crawled out of the fluid of water into the fluid of air, then learned to navigate up within that lighter fluid, then left all fluids behind. There's a pattern here. I remain excited about human beings continuing to do what we've always done.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.