Apollo 11 – Missão à Lua

Mission to the Moon
On July 16, 1969, three astronauts embarked on a mission to reach the moon. Four days later, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on an extraterrestrial body. John Noble Wilford, who covered the Apollo 11 mission for The New York Times, narrates a look back at the historic journey. Apollo 11 – Mission to the Moon – Ineractive Feature – NYTimes.com


On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar


In memory, after all this time, Apollo resists relegation to the past tense. It is close to midnight, and the summer air is warm and still, no heavier than usual for Florida. We are driving toward a light in the distance. Its preternatural glow suffuses the sky ahead but, strangely, leaves the land where we are in natural darkness.

After the first checkpoint, miles back, where guards inspected our badges and car pass, the source of the light comes into view. The sight is magnetic, drawing us on. Strong xenon beams converge on Pad 39A, highlighting the mighty Saturn 5 rocket as it is being fueled. Our car radio tells us the countdown is proceeding on schedule.

These are the wee hours of the day — July 16, 1969 — the country has waited for since 1961. The rocket fueling continues, the radio informs us. The countdown proceeds without interruption.

A few more miles, another checkpoint, and Doug Dederer, a stringer for The New York Times, and I approach the Vehicle Assembly Building, a mammoth presence rising above the flat terrain of sand, palmetto and lagoons stretching to the Atlantic. We have beaten the heavy traffic that will clog the roads in the next hours. Several thousand journalists will be coming out in cars and buses, and 5,000 V.I.P.’s — diplomats, Congress members, industrialists, movie stars and former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had championed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its Apollo program.

The roads outside the Kennedy Space Center gates are already filling with the cars and campers of more than a million tourists arriving for the launching. Even the rivers are crowded with an armada of pleasure boats.

We turn off the highway and pull into the press site, three miles this side of the shining light on Pad 39A. This is judged to be a safe distance away in case of an explosion. We park next to a rusting old house trailer. Here we will wait for dawn and the liftoff, now some eight hours away.

The press site has grown in size and bustle through the succession of Apollo test flights. There is a shaded grandstand for news conferences and where reporters are setting up their typewriters and recorders. Behind, there are low buildings for NASA offices and more reporters’ desks. Contractors occupy temporary buildings, on hand to promote their technologies and assist reporters with spacecraft questions.

Along an embankment stretches a line of trailers for the larger news organizations and imposing studios for the three major television networks. The Times trailer, though serviceable through the Gemini and earlier Apollo launchings, will not win any best-of-show award. At each launching, the shock wave shakes the trailer, leaving deposits of rust outlining its dimensions. This is our working outpost, a shelter from the heat and the tumult.

Doug and I unload the car. We switch on the air-conditioner and fill the refrigerator with sandwiches and cans of soda. We hook up small TV sets and a telephone, and spread the spacecraft manuals and press kits on a desk. I stretch out on the floor to catch some sleep. Who knows when I will have another chance. I may have dozed off, but not for long.

The Space Race

The first time I came to Cape Kennedy (as Cape Canaveral had been renamed) was in December 1965. Momentum was then building in the space race between the cold war superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. It all started with the Sputnik alarm in 1957 and then President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 to put astronauts on the Moon by the end of the decade.

Design of the Little Joe capsules began at Langley prior to the design of the Mercury capsule and was, therefore, a separate design. It was not designed to carry a man but the capsules did have to meet the weight and center of gravity requirements of Mercury and withstand the same aerodynamic loads during the path of lift-off. In comparison with the overall Mercury Project, Little Joe was a simple undertaking, The fact that an attempt was made to condense a normal two-year project into a six-month one with in-house labor turned it into a major undertaking for Langley.

The first Americans flew in the Mercury capsules, with room for only one pilot and limited maneuverability. The Gemini was a two-seater built for longer flights and outfitted with navigation systems for practicing rendezvous maneuvers essential for lunar missions. I was at the Cape for the tandem mission of Geminis 6 and 7. After some delay and improvisation, astronauts successfully steered the two craft to a rendezvous in Earth orbit.

Gemini 8, a few months later, was a disaster narrowly averted. Neil A. Armstrong was at the controls of the spacecraft, with David Scott as co-pilot. There had been no hitches at liftoff, and the astronauts docked with an orbiting Agena target vehicle, the mission’s principal objective.

Then trouble struck. The Gemini began bucking and spinning because of a misfiring thruster rocket. Armstrong feared that he and Scott might lose consciousness from the high spin rate. They disengaged from the Agena, but still could not bring their spacecraft under full control. Armstrong managed to steer the Gemini to an emergency splashdown before the end of its only day in space.

Four more Gemini missions followed, mainly trouble-free, concluding the project in November 1966. The way was cleared for the first flights of the three-person Apollo craft, the first of which was already at the Cape.

On the afternoon of Jan. 27, 1967, the three astronauts — Virgil I. Grissom, known as Gus; Edward H. White II; and Roger B. Chaffee Jr. — were going through a dress rehearsal on the launching pad. The rocket was not fueled, but in every other respect, the crew and the launching teams went through the complete countdown procedures.

At 6:31 p.m., one of the astronauts yelled through the communications static, something like “Hey!” or “Fire!” A second later, monitors indicated movement in the cockpit and a rise in cabin temperatures. An astronaut cried out, “We’ve got a fire in the cockpit!”

It took approximately five minutes for pad workers to open the hatch and fight their way through acrid smoke — too late. It was the darkest hour in the Apollo program.

A Nation in Tumult

More than a year and a half of redesign and retesting of the Apollo spacecraft passed before astronauts were finally cleared to fly one. The second of these missions, Apollo 8, restored confidence that the goal was in sight and attainable. It is still spoken of as the Genesis flight.

The flight came in the Christmas season at the end of one of the most tumultuous years in American history. The country in 1968 was divided and demoralized.

Opposition to the Vietnam War had forced Johnson to withdraw from a run for another term. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fell dead in Memphis from an assassin’s bullet, a tragedy that incited a riot of arson and looting in scores of cities. The mourning and fury had hardly subsided when Robert F. Kennedy was cut down by another assassin’s bullet, in Los Angeles.

Protests raged on university campuses and provoked violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at the Democratic convention in Chicago. The dark side of humanity was ascendant as the three astronauts of Apollo 8 set out to circumnavigate the Moon.

The cold war that engendered the Apollo drive to the Moon was now, on another front, threatening to be Apollo’s undoing. No one in power, as I recall, seriously advocated canceling or deferring the enterprise. Yet amid a shooting war abroad and bitter unrest at home, going to the Moon slipped lower in the public’s order of priorities.

The society that responded with can-do confidence to President Kennedy’s challenge had changed, almost beyond recognition, by the eve of Apollo’s climactic successes. It dismayed me to think that the country was so transformed that the first human voyages to the Moon might wind up as irrelevancies. Selfishly, I wanted the story to be as big and inspiring of awe as I had counted on when I took the assignment. I wanted the same country that decided to go to the Moon to be there, relieved and enthralled, when at last we succeeded.

Then, Earthrise

Apollo 8 proved to be a tonic at this crucial time. The astronauts — Frank Borman, James A. Lovell Jr., and William A. Anders — flew to the Moon and circled it 10 times in orbits within 60 miles of the lifeless surface. Apollo’s television camera recorded the gray plains and wide craters, one scene after another of everlasting desolation. On the fourth orbit, as Apollo emerged from behind the Moon, Borman, the commander, exclaimed: “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, that is pretty!”

This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn. The photo is displayed here in its original orientation, though it is more commonly viewed with the lunar surface at the bottom of the photo. Earth is about five degrees left of the horizon in the photo. The unnamed surface features on the left are near the eastern limb of the Moon as viewed from Earth. The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. Height of the photographed area at the lunar horizon is about 175 kilometers.

The astronauts gasped at the sight of Earth, a blue and white orb sparkling in the blackness of space, in contrast to the dead lunar surface in the foreground. People at home saw the full Earth only in black-and-white television images. Even so, the sight moved the poet Archibald MacLeish to write in The Times on Christmas Day: “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”

After the mission, NASA released the color pictures the astronauts had taken of “Earthrise.” These were even more inspiring and humbling, the mission’s prized keepsake. Time magazine closed out the troubled year with the Earthrise photograph on its cover, with a one-word caption, “Dawn.”

In a 2008 book, “Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth,” Robert Poole contends that the picture was the spiritual nascence of the environmental movement, writing that “it is possible to see that Earthrise marked the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth.”

Another Apollo 8 surprise was in store, prepared by the astronauts. Late Christmas Eve, on one of the final orbits, Anders announced, “The crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you.” While a camera focused on the Moon outside the spacecraft window, Anders read the opening words of the creation story from the Book of Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth,” Anders began. “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Lovell then took over with the verse beginning: “And God called the light day, and the darkness he called night.”

Borman closed the reading: “And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good.”

At the conclusion, a hushed audience throughout the lands of Earth heard Borman sign off from the Moon: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”

My father and other ministers, priests, and rabbis never read the Scripture to a more rapt audience. This message, truly from on high, was like a gift of hope: There is still beauty to behold, still an aspiration to goodness and greatness. Those who believe in other gods, or no god at all, shared in the spirit of the moment, its solemnity and its evocation of wonder. And believers, if only in hope, experienced emotions of relief and an upwelling of optimism, where there had been despair.

Looking back, three of the nine Apollo lunar missions stand out from the others as especially emotional experiences. Apollo 11 made history. A bold commitment was fulfilled, and those alive then have never forgotten where they were and their feelings when humans first walked on the Moon. Apollo 13, unlucky 13, was an epic suspense unfolding in real time to a global audience. Three astronauts went forth, met disaster, faced death and barely limped back to the safety of home. And Apollo 8, as the first flight of humans beyond Earth’s low orbital confines, restored momentum and magnitude to the adventure of reaching for the Moon.

Michael Collins, who was the capsule communicator (capcom) in Mission Control for the flight, said that the essence of Apollo 8 was about leaving, and that Apollo 11’s was about arriving.

“As you look back 100 years from now, which is more important, the idea that people left their home planet or the idea that people arrived at their nearby satellite?” Collins asked himself. “I’m not sure, but I think probably you would say Apollo 8 was of more significance than Apollo 11, even though today we regard Apollo 11 as being the showpiece and zenith of the Apollo program, rightly so. But, as I say, 100 years from now, historians may say Apollo 8 is more significant; it’s more significant to leave than it is to arrive.”

Apollo 11 On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade. Eight years later at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, that dream became a reality as the swing arms moved away and a plume of flame signaled the liftoff of the Apollo 11 carrying astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A to the moon. The first of six successful lunar missions, Apollo 11 marked the first time humans set foot on another planetary surface. This image is of the Apollo 11 crew ‘suiting up’ for countdown demonstration test. Image Credit: NASA

The Launching

In the early light of dawn, the three Apollo 11 astronauts take the drive from their quarters to the launching pad. Everything is on schedule for a liftoff at 9:32 a.m.

Apollo 8 had departed on time. So had Apollo 9, a flight test with the lunar landing module in Earth orbit, and Apollo 10, which orbited the Moon and practiced deploying and recovering a lunar module — the final readiness test for a landing attempt. We have become accustomed to reliability, but it cannot be taken for granted.

I have a contingency plan of sorts. I make notes on a legal pad of each milestone in the countdown, recording the time to liftoff, weather, anything of passing interest that could assume importance. Any of these steps may be the last one before a glitch crops up and the whole operation has to be scrubbed for the day, or worse. In that case, I will have on hand material for pinpointing the time and possible nature of the trouble and for composing a narrative leading up to whatever fate brings.

Precisely on schedule, Jack King, the “voice of Apollo,” intones the final countdown. 5-4-3. Ignition.

Orange flame and dark smoke erupt from huge nozzles at the base of the Saturn 5. The rocket hesitates, held down by heavy steel arms. 2-1, King continues. “We have liftoff.”

Once at full thrust, and unbound, the 3,817-ton spaceship strains to overcome gravity, and for a heart-stopping second or two, appears to be losing the fight. Then, ever so slowly, it rises and clears the tower.

Only now the staccato thunderclaps from the engines reach the press site, confirming once again that sound travels more slowly than light. The blasts beat on your chest and shake the ground you stand on. The experience is visceral, the Saturn moving earth and smacking us with goodbyes. The spacefarers are off over the ocean, fire and vapor trailing behind, on their way to the Moon.

In less than 12 minutes, as Saturn 5’s three stages fire one after the other, the Apollo command module and its linked lunar module settle into a low orbit of Earth. The astronauts have two and a half hours to make sure they have a Moon-worthy vehicle. Then, another firing of the Saturn’s third-stage rocket powers Apollo 11 onto its lunar trajectory. I begin to write.

Apollo 11 Launch The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon’s surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment. Image Credit: NASA

Moonfall Eve

In the night before the day of the Moon walk, I lie wide awake in bed at a hotel down the road from the Houston space center. I have returned from the late change-of-shift briefing by a flight director: nothing new, the crew and their spacecraft are fine. On the fourth day of its journey, Apollo 11 had rocketed into orbit around the Moon. The astronauts so far are following a course almost identical to the one traveled by Apollo 10, only two months before.

I am exhausted but too excited for sleep. The landing is scheduled in less than 14 hours.

I think of what I will write. I have never made a practice of composing a draft story in anticipation of a success, or alternative drafts for failure. I trust myself to draw inspiration from what happens, thinking spontaneity will serve me better and endow the story with the energy of immediacy. But now, phrases and disconnected sentences spill out of my wakefulness.

I get up and read the articles I have written about the mission up to now. Reporters may feel impelled to write of the next day’s events as the culmination of the space race, the achievement of an ambitious national goal, a historic triumph. I swear to myself that I will not use “historic” in my top paragraph.

I reach for my notebook and try several opening sentences. They must be put on a strict diet. I cross out adjectives. I eliminate clauses that are superfluous and sound too much like heavy music for a movie soundtrack. I begin again: “American astronauts landed.” No, too restrictive and chauvinistic; it will be clear soon enough that the astronauts are American and the goal of a decade has been achieved.

I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

This will not work for the first edition, before the astronauts have set foot on the Moon. But when the day is done, if all goes well, this simple sentence will say it all. Sleep comes to me, at last.

The Eagle Prepares to Land The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine. Image Credit: NASA

The Landing

After three or four hours’ rest, I drive to the space center to start the longest day in my career. It is no more than 6 o’clock. Nothing has changed overnight. The astronauts of Apollo 11 are up and getting ready for the landing attempt. At the newsroom, only steps from Mission Control, foreign reporters are filing copy for next editions in distant time zones. Others mill around, their eyes baggy.

On Apollo’s 13th orbit of the Moon, Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. crawl into the lunar module Eagle, leaving Michael Collins to fly the command module while they are away. The two modules separate. With the firing of the Eagle’s descent engine, Armstrong and Aldrin, known as Buzz, ride toward the Moon.

Armstrong keeps an eye ahead, as they draw nearer to the surface, and checks lights and gauges on the cockpit computer display. Aldrin, on the radio to Mission Control, reads off altitude, fuel reserves and other data every few seconds.

MOONSCAPE The Sea of Tranquillity and its gaping craters dwarfed the shadow of Neil Armstrong at lower left. The Eagle lander is in the background.

The descent steepens, the engine firing continuously. The Eagle closes in on its target in the Sea of Tranquillity, a broad basin that is a smudge on the right face of the Moon, as seen from Earth on clear nights. Hovering 300 feet above the designated landing site, Armstrong makes a startling discovery: the land there is littered with dangerous boulders.

Armstrong grabs manual controls for the rest of the way down. For about 90 seconds, he searches the surface for a clear spot, flying over a crater and ignoring warning lights from an overloaded computer.

If not for a final simulation before the mission, the flight director Gene Kranz will say later, controllers probably would have aborted the landing at this moment. The same alarms in the practice run had led them to the wrong conclusion, an abort command, but now they recognize that those signals can be safely disregarded.

Thirty feet, the engine exhaust kicking up lunar dust, Armstrong has only seconds left to make a landing or to abort and return, by firing the ascent engine, to the command module. Fuel is running low, near empty. Armstrong remains cool and finally sees a smooth spot he likes.

A blue light on the cockpit controls signals that the five-foot-long probes, like curb feelers, have touched the surface. He cuts off the engine, and the Eagle settles to the surface, a few miles downrange from the intended site. Over the radio, the Apollo 11 commander announces: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Charlie Duke, the capcom, responds: “Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again.”

The same can be said for reporters at the Mission Control newsroom. The touchdown came at 3:17 p.m., Houston time. After a postlanding news conference, I begin writing the top of my story, which will soon appear under the banner “Men Land On Moon.” When that first edition hits the streets, Walter Cronkite holds the front page up to the CBS camera, mentioning my name. It is the high point of the mission for my parents, watching TV back in Tennessee.

Buzz Aldrin climbs down the Eagle’s ladder to the surface. Photo credit: NASA

Live, From the Moon

On July 20, 1969, at 9:56:20 p.m., Central Daylight Time in Houston, Armstrong steps from the Eagle’s ladder to the surface of the Moon. His first words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He presumably means “one small step for a man,” but the article is lost in the static, or he simply forgets it in his understandable excitement.

Armstrong tests the footing. “The surface is fine and powdery,” he radios. “It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the soles and sides of my boots. I only go in a fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch. But I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.”

The astronaut determines that he can move about easily in his bulky white spacesuit and heavy backpack while under the influence of lunar gravity, which makes everything weigh one-sixth of what it weighs on Earth. After 19 minutes, he is joined outside by Aldrin, who had been preparing and handing down equipment for their walk. The two immediately set up a TV camera away from the craft to give people back home a broader view of the lunar landscape and their operations.

It then occurs to me that if Columbus and Capt, James Cook were alive, they might be less astonished by two men landing on the Moon than by the millions of people, worldwide, watching every step of the walk as it happens. Exploring is old, but instantaneous telecommunications is new and marvelous.

In just 1.3 seconds, the time it takes for radio waves to travel the 238,000 miles from Moon to Earth, each step by Armstrong and Aldrin is seen, and their voices heard, throughout the world they have for the time being left behind. In contrast to exploration’s previous landfalls, the whole world shares in this moment.

Now Aldrin is describing the bounding kangaroo hops of their movements in the low lunar gravity. “Sometimes it takes about two or three paces to make sure that your feet are underneath you,” he explains. “And about two or three, maybe four, easy paces can bring you to a fairly smooth stop.”

The astronauts plant an American flag, deploy three scientific instruments for collecting data in the months after their departure, and pick up samples of rock and soil. At one point, they pause for a telephone call from the White House. “Because of what you have done,” President Richard M. Nixon tells them, “the heavens have become a part of man’s world.”

The Moon walk lasts 2 hours and 21 minutes. After I file my wrap-up story and wait for any questions from the national desk, it is going on 3 a.m. I know I have just written the biggest single story of my career, unless I should still be reporting if and when life is discovered elsewhere in the universe.

No place is quieter or more desolate than a newsroom after the last editions have gone to press. I disconnect my telephone and pack my portable typewriter and a bulging bag of reference books and notes.

I walk out into the hot, muggy night in a daze of elation and exhaustion, trying to recall where I had parked my car so long ago. I stop to gaze at the full Moon and the dark spot that is the Sea of Tranquillity, where Armstrong and Aldrin are settling down after their day in history. What can they be thinking? What joy they must know, what relief!

Next day, the astronauts leave Tranquillity Base and rejoin Collins, in the command module. They return to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, July 24. At the postmission news conference, William Hines, a reporter given to puncturing balloons, interrupts the self-congratulatory rhetoric with a question for Chris Kraft, chief of flight operations: “Chris, how do you know this was not just a random success?”

In the 2007 documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” he said: “People, instead of saying, ‘Well, you Americans did it,’ everywhere they said: ‘We did it!’ We, humankind, we, the human race, we, people did it!” The inclusiveness of the experience was remarkable, given the space race’s origins in an atmosphere of fear and belligerence.

Farewell to the Moon

Apollo 11 effectively ended the space race. The Russians conceded as much by their subsequent space endeavors. Handicapped by failures in testing their own heavy-lift rocket, they never attempted a human flight to the Moon and turned instead to long-duration flights in low orbit. American astronauts made six more journeys to the Moon, all successes, excepting the ill-starred Apollo 13. But public interest was flagging. A battle in the cold war was won, people seemed to feel, so bring the boys home.

By the end of 1972, the last of the 12 men to walk on the Moon packed up and returned home. The uncertain future for human spaceflight muted the celebrations at Houston.

At the conclusion of that flight, Apollo 17, I solicited historians’ assessment of the significance of these early years in space. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. predicted that in 500 years, the 20th century would probably be remembered mainly for humanity’s ventures beyond its native planet. At the close of the century, he had not changed his mind.

How brief the space race was, the 12 years from the wake-up call by Sputnik to the first Moon walk, but thrilling, mind-boggling, even magnificent at times. No one has been back to the Moon since 1972.

The United States has now embarked on a program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 to establish a more permanent research presence there and prepare for eventual human flight to Mars. But in the absence of the cold war motivation, the effort lacks the money and the political mandate that favored Apollo. Another enterprise on the scale of Apollo is, in the foreseeable future, unimaginable.

Someday, however, a party of space travelers may make the pilgrimage to Tranquillity Base. The encampment should be just as Armstrong and Aldrin left it. Change comes slowly on the arid, airless Moon, and barring an intervening shower of meteorites, the American flag and the forlorn base of the lunar module should look like new. And the astronaut bootprints should still appear fresh in the gray powdery regolith.

Apollo’s Legacy

Spaceflight is now embedded in our culture, so much so that it is usually taken for granted — a far cry from the old days when the world held its breath for Alan B. Shepard Jr. and John Glenn and watched, transfixed, the scene at Tranquillity Base. That was then; no astronauts today are household names. Yet space traffic is thick and integral to the infrastructure of modern life.

Seldom does it cross our minds that our voices and text messages are carried across continents and oceans via satellites. Our weather and the effects of global warming are tracked from space. Our news, including reports of astronaut missions now relegated to back pages, is disseminated through space. We view the spectacular images from the planet Saturn and the far cosmos with less thought to how they were obtained than of the beauty and abiding mystery they call to our attention.

For a brief time, when spaceflight was fresh and exciting, we embraced astronauts as heroes who took risks to reach grand goals. We believed then more readily in heroes, people who reflect what it is that we feel is admirable in humanity, who inspire us at least to strive to live up to some ideal image.

Only four years before Sputnik, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were hailed as heroes for making the last “giant leap for mankind” of the pre-space-age generations. Their ascent to the top of Mount Everest, as high as anyone can aspire and still be rooted on terra firma, culminated an era of crossing oceans, penetrating continental interiors and reaching the ends of the earth. They crested a divide in exploration between the more individual exploits of yore and the greater team efforts mobilized to challenge newer frontiers of achievement.

On this side of the divide, potential heroes get lost in the crowd of collaborators and overshadowed by their enabling technology. Even the amazing technology itself, so swiftly domesticated for the workplace and home, soon seems too ordinary to be remarkable. Our laptops have a greater capacity than any of the computers in the Apollo Project.

Neil Armstrong has earned the last word. “I think we’ll always be in space,” he said in a 2001 interview for NASA’s oral-history program. “But it will take us longer to do the new things than the advocates would like, and in some cases it will take external factors or forces which we can’t control and can’t anticipate that will cause things to happen or not happen.”

Armstrong then struck a note that resonates with his contemporaries, and that includes me. He and his Apollo 11 crew were born in the same year, 1930, three years before I was; we were the right age at the right time and places to participate in a singular adventure in history, whatever its legacy as seen through the eyes of later generations. “We were really very privileged,” he said, “to live in that thin slice of history where we changed how man looks at himself and what he might become and where he might go.”

  1. 20 de Julho, 2009
  2. 5 de Agosto, 2009

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