Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Ago

It was forty years ago today that man landed and walked on the Moon. Everybody is going to be posting about this of course, particularly we old farts, who remembers seeing it when it happened. I think we want to share our memories.

I don't know that my memories are much different from most people. Back in those days Saskatoon was a one channel town. CFQC was a CBC affiliate – as was every station in a single station market. What CBC did was to take the CBS coverage pretty much in its entirety and intercut some of their own material into the coverage. Lloyd Roberston was the CBC news anchor, but the face of it that we all remember was Walter Cronkite working along with Wally Schirra. In fact I remember very little about the CBC's own coverage beyond a very strong memory of a sort of three sided interview involving writer Isaac Asimov and (I believe) Abbie Hoffman, and the only part of that I remember was Hoffman "explaining" to Asimov that "obviously" no one with a name like Asimov would ever walk on the Moon, because a name like that didn't fit the WASP white-bread vision of America that NASA was designed to promote. Which of course has turned out to be true but certainly not for the reasons that Hoffman imagined.

I watched the Moon landing with my grandfather, and I'm pretty sure that we saw it on a black & white TV (which I still have by the way). As you'll see from the clips it didn't make too much difference. While the show was in colour, the important bits – the events from the surface of the moon – were in pretty low definition black & white. Apollo 12 was the first Moon mission with a colour TV camera; not that it did them much good after Alan Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the Sun which burned it out. The parts that were in colour were the clearly labelled animations and simulations. Thus we saw Neil Armstrong step on the Moon live, but thanks to the positioning of the camera (which dropped out on a shelf on the side of the descent stage of the Lunar Module, deployed when Armstrong pulled a lanyard on the "porch" of the module) we could barely tell what we were seeing. It got better.

My grandmother wasn't watching. She hated the idea of men walking on the moon, as if the very fact of their presence changed it somehow. In fact, at the time I remember her saying, "It's not the same Moon." In a way I guess she may have been right. A bit of the mystery had been taken away. Later flights would take away more of the mystery, but they would add more as well. As it turns out, the Moon Rocks weren't just gifts to be handed out to foreign dignitaries, they reveal a considerable amount about the formation of the Earth and the Moon and have led to at least one new theory about how the Moon was created (the Giant Impact Hypothesis which is currently the leading theory on the formation of the Moon). Still, when I was watching the Moon Landing as a 12 year-old kid I wasn't worried about the Moon being somehow changed by the event, or even about the science of the thing. I was excited by the sheer joy of the exploration in the one place where it seemed there was still the chance to explore. We knew our world (or thought we did) now there was nowhere else to go but up and out of the cradle. Little did we know how brief the time out of the cradle would be.

Regardless, here are the key events of that marvellous (in the true sense of the term – full of marvels) day forty years ago, mostly as I saw it. There are eight 10-minute parts to this playlist.

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