More Dogs on Main Street
July 17, 2009
Monday is the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Time flies when you’re having fun, or something like that, but it doesn’t seem all that long ago. It was either a great — perhaps the greatest — example of mankind’s technical achievement, or the best photographic hoax of the pre-Photoshop era. Call me naive, but I’m inclined to believe that it actually happened.
The context was deep Cold War. Russia had sent up Sputnik, and also had orbited a monkey. Monkeys in space! We had to react. So President Kennedy gave a speech and stated as a matter of fact that we would walk on the moon by the end of the decade. It was a grand challenge, and all across the country the schools retrenched and began an intensive math and science curriculum. They were going to save the world for democracy by teaching us the "set theory." All of my elementary school math classes were based on the "set theory," which may have something to do with my current inability to balance a checkbook. But those not hindered by the new math proudly donned their plastic pocket protectors and set their sights on the moon.
At the time, it was viewed as a great achievement, and evidence of the superior character and intellect of the American people. Who else could accomplish such a thing so quickly? America can go to the moon. Take that, you commie bastards.
I remember the landing very well. I was spending that summer helping an uncle remodel a house that was probably 80 years old at the time. The bathroom, which was an afterthought in a lean-to addition without a foundation, was rotting into the ground. He needed some help, and in the absence of somebody who knew anything about building, he got me. My primary task was holding the "dumb end" of the tape measure. I’m not sure how useful I really was, but I learned a lot. By the end of the project, the most important thing I had learned is that my uncle was too big to get through the opening into a very scary, rodent-filled crawl space, but that I seemed to fit just fine.
We didn’t have television reception at the ranch then. We barely had radio. The only radio was in my uncle’s truck, so when the big landing came, we sat in the cab of the truck, listening to it on the radio. It must have been much more dramatic on TV when Neil Armstrong stepped off the landing craft and said "one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind." It frankly didn’t work on the radio. We shrugged and went back to plumbing. We stared up at the moon in the sky, and somehow it just didn’t all connect.
That was 40 years ago. The great event is being commemorated all over the country by nada. I Googled moon-landing celebrations and anniversary and a bunch of other options, and the crowning accomplishment of American science in the last century is being ignored. Outside of a few barbecues in the homes of NASA scientists, it’s just another day. The closest thing to an official observance locally was the Deseret News in Salt Lake soliciting reminiscences from readers about what they were doing that day. The folks who believe it was all a hoax, on the other hand, are putting on some big parties.
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From a practical standpoint, landing on the moon was a grand stunt. We’re not farming on the moon. The cure for disease was not found there. We haven’t established communication with other life forms in other galaxies. We learned that a golf ball will really fly in zero gravity, but that has little application to anybody’s current golf game. Landing on the moon really didn’t change the world.
The process of getting there, however, really did change the world. The hard science that went into the stunt advanced technology at a rate unimaginable for prior generations. Forty years ago, I listened to the landing on a static-filled car radio. Today I have satellite TV with 250 channels. Forty years ago, I would have been writing this on a manual typewriter instead of a computer. The three Apollo astronauts who made that trip were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and some other guy whose name nobody remembers because he didn’t actually get to step on the moon. He stayed behind to keep the getaway car running. Forty years ago, it would have taken hours in a library to track down his name. Today I can get it instantly from Google over technology that had its genesis in the basic science that led to the moon landing. I could get his name in an instant but who cares?
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.