I drew the above strip in 2009, for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 1969.
Of course, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary, and I’ve been reading a lot this year about the Apollo Program. One of the spates of new books to celebrate the achievement is One Giant Leap, by Charles Fishman. He does a great job laying out in detail just what had to be done — what had to be invented — once the American space agency NASA was given the go-ahead by President Kennedy, and the culture of meticulous care and quality-control that made it possible. (At a time when it got things so horribly wrong in Vietnam, America got this one right, and the world cheered it on.) I learned a lot that I didn’t know about the politics and the science and the industrial engagement that propelled Apollo.
I also revisited a lot that I did know because I was probably the perfect age — nine, turning ten — to witness with wonder the landing on the moon. (Tom Fisher was always a few years younger than me.) My boyhood enthusiasm came flooding back as I read Fishman’s book and followed the anniversary celebrations in the media. For years before the moon landing, I had read about the Mercury and Gemini missions in National Geographic. (I would seek out, again and again, the names of space missions on the yellow spines on the bookshelf; those issues became more tattered than most.) I had kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of Apollo 8’s mission over Christmas, 1968. It was the first to leave earth’s orbit, circle the moon, and return, and along the way take the first photographs of our world framed by the black of space. That revelation still gives me goosebumps.
So this year’s Apollo anniversary brought me two things. First, a chance to spend some time with a much younger version of myself, and to see the world again, a little bit, through his eyes. And it gave me hope that we might yet meet the challenges — like halting climate change — that is so daunting. The Apollo Program started as a promise, a bold bit of Cold War bravado. But, once committed, thousands of men and women made it real. They made it happen.
So who’s to say that there are problems we cannot solve if we are truly committed to solving them? After all, as the saying goes, “If they can put a man on the moon…”