A Child of the Space Age
July 31, 2013
Willy Ley and Werner von Braun were among my childhood heroes. I was thrilled by the first faint beeps from Sputnik. Alan Shepard and John Glenn took me with them into space. I will remember to my dying day where I was when I watched Neal Armstrong take his one small step. Those feelings and memories are of enormous importance to me. They help define me. I am a child of the space age. If we turn our back on space, what will my grandchildren have to take its place? We NEED to be explorers! It is our birthright and our legacy. Please do not allow it to be taken from us.
I wrote the above paragraph as an attachment to a letter to the president of the United States from the Planetary Society. By the time you, my grandchildren, read this it will be apparent whether or not the efforts of the society and the others who support the space program were successful. What I want to talk about here is that one sentence, "I am a child of the space age."
The space age is usually defined as beginning on October 4th 1957 with the launching of the first man-made satellite. I was six weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday. For me it began even earlier. Along with cowboy shows like "Roy Rogers," kid's TV at the time included "space operas." When I was eight or nine years old I was thrilled by the adventures of "Captain Video" and "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet." Never mind how quaint or even silly those names sound today, they evoked a sense of wonder and the belief that there were no limits to what we could do. Science fiction was by far the biggest part of my pleasure reading for many years. My ship of imagination didn't just take me across oceans, it took me across the universe.
I grew up in a wonderful, terrible, time. "Wonderful" because science and technology were making the world a better, richer place every day. Television was just beginning to bring the world into our living rooms. Terrible diseases like polio were succumbing to the power of medicine. The commercial jet airplane made travel something anyone could do. "Terrible" because that same science and technology had created the power to end civilized life through nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis occurred the same year I graduated from high school, and in grade school I did take part in those ridiculous "duck and cover" exercises.
Through it all, more than anything else, it was the effort to get man into space that held my imagination. I grew up believing that we would have colonies on the moon and be on our way to the stars. I have to admit that my belief that those things will happen has diminished, but it still remains a part of me. I hope that you have a "space race" to inspire you to believe we can still reach for the stars, and that nothing like the threat of nuclear war exists for you. "Go in peace" is an often heard benediction. May you have peace, and also the opportunity to "go."
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.