My interest in space exploration began with Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961, when I was just shy of my 11th birthday. Yuri Gagarin had already made history with his flight, but since the U.S.S.R. was secretive about the launch, I didn't get to see anything until the televised launch of Freedom 7. My teacher (and almost ALL teachers, I assume), had brought a television into the classroom so we could watch the launch live, and I can still remember the thrill of watching the countdown and liftoff, and wondering what Shepard was experiencing. I became an avid science fiction reader after that, gobbling up authors like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and the rest of the sci-fi classics litany, while every subsequent manned launch was a classroom TV event. FAST FORWARD to July 20, 1969, and the first manned lunar landing. I watched the entire day's events unfold, calmly seated in a chair in front of the TV, and I got excited with the words, "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." But that was only mild excitement compared to when the camera flickered and the image of Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder of the LEM was before my wide eyes. I caught myself sitting, quite literally, on the edge of my chair, and my heart was racing as though I had just finished a long run outside. My ultra-religious Jewish grandmother was over at our house, and she stood at the window, looking outside at the Moon in the sky, and then back at the TV screen, and she had difficulty assimilating the reality of someone walking on the Moon. It is a day I will NEVER forget.
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