Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We just decided to go

I was three when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.  My grandmother went to Cape Kennedy in 1970, and amongst other things, she brought back a set of mission photographs - 8"x10" prints of the best photos taken during the Apollo 11 launch, the mission, the Moon walk, and the return to Earth.  I remember looking at them as a kid, certain and sure that one day I would walk on Mars.  Sure enough, in fact, that I entered a contest in 1977 sponsored by the Ontario Science Centre to design a spaceship to travel to Mars. I won a couple of free passes.  I was eleven, Star Wars had just been released, and it was less than five years since the last man had walked on the Moon.

In December, it will have been 40 years since the Apollo 17 astronauts came home.

I still have those pictures. This has always been my favourite one:

Why, you ask? Simple - because although we know that it's Neil Armstrong in the suit, we can't see his face. I kind of like that anonymity; the fact that all we know is that there's a human being walking on another planet (and of course, thanks to the shoulder patch, that it's an American). Neil Armstrong, who may be the most self-effacing celebrity humanity has ever known, lived his whole post-Apollo life that way. While everybody else in the world looked at him, he seemed to spend his time trying to highlight the half-million or so folks who enabled him to walk on the Moon.

And that's why my favourite line about the Apollo program has never been any of the factual stuff that anyone said - Armstrong's quote, or the line on the plaque that says "We came in peace for all mankind."  My favourite line comes from the movie Apollo 13, where Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell, is talking to his wife while Armstrong is hopping around the lunar surface:

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon.  It's not a miracle; we just decided to go.

We just decided to go.