A few days ago marked the 40th. anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Back during that extraordinary time, I was in the midst of a long summer weekend taking respite from the hot weather along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast. I remember water skiing behind my buddy’s family boat trying to perfect the skill of picking up an open beer can between my legs tossed from the stern by a friend. I journeyed with my buddy, Billy, to the offshore island of Put-In-Bay by airplane. No ordinary airplane, mind you, but a 1930’s Ford Trimotor classic. It was so slow that cars beneath us were going faster along the roads than we were through the thick, humid air. Billy was petrified. I just laughed.
Arriving on the island, we were thrust into a midsummer regatta/wine festival that seemed to last for days. College friends, Toledo girls, and thousands of other revelers joined us there. My friend Rodney got so sick from over-indulgence that the family priest of my buddy Blitz offered “last rights” to Rodney while he lay face down on the grass. Sometime during that lawn party, we all gathered around the TV to watch the moon landing. There it was—black & white, surreal, hauntingly distant, historic. And there I was—buzzed on Bud, 21 and alive, watching intensely with friends, parents, neighbors, strangers and a priest.
In one way, it was just another Sixties moment—bizarre, one-of-a-kind, difficult to comprehend. In another way, this moment was simply HUGE. Never again would I look at the moon in the same manner. No longer was our moon untouchable. The Apollo 11 team even brought back parts of tierra luna. There were fears among some experts that unknown diseases may be inadvertently transferred to earth. The three astronauts were put in quarantine for nearly two months after return. Nothing, to our knowledge, ever happened. For my son and others who were born after this time, I imagine they see the moon as pedestrian. We’ve been there. Done that. But before the 1969 landing, the moon was viewed from afar. It was considered mystical, other worldly. But the mystery evaporated rapidly that July day.
Or did it? If one goes to Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, there is a replica of a moon rock on display fashioned after one of the many rocks that Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong brought back. Even though it is not the real thing, the object has been worn smooth by hundreds of thousands of fingers reaching out for a touch of space. One of those hands might have been Walter Cronkite’s, since he enthusiastically reported on all things NASA throughout the Sixties. But after it was determined that moon rocks held no harm for humans, Walter, who just died this month due to earth-bound causes, was presented his very own moon rock in appreciation of his years of broadcast coverage. And that’s the way it was, so many years ago when I was just a young man.