When I was little, a couple of older cousins asked what I wanted to do when I grew up.
“Go to the moon,” I answered.
They laughed and said the moon probably didn’t have air or water and was too far.
“It would take you 100 years,” the older cousin, Patsy Burke, said in a motherly fashion.
She said Flash Gordon and the Sunday comics my dad read to me weren’t real, and it would be impossible for anyone to go to the moon.
I haven’t made it there, but in 1968 NASA proved it wasn’t an impossible voyage.
It didn’t take them 100 years as my cousin said.
Apollo 8 took off on Dec. 21 and orbited the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve. Astronauts gave us images of sun and Earth rises from the moon, providing a new perspective of ourselves in the universe.
The mission involved not only celebration, but tension as we worried about our heroes. Perhaps the most memorable words of that mission came when Apollo 8’s engine burn shot them out of lunar orbit.
“Please be informed there is a Santa Claus,” astronaut James Lovell radioed home.
They splashed down in the Pacific on Dec. 27. The round trip took less than a week. Take that, cousins.
To me the most memorable achievement of our time came a few months later.
My friend, Clyde Pierce, and I left a church service early to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface. That day I felt my greatest sense of pride in my nation.
Even if it sounded at the time like Armstrong flubbed his scripted “one small step for a man” line by leaving out the article, it didn’t dampen the moment.
The next moon mission included astronaut Richard F. Gordon. I’ve never looked up his middle name, preferring to imagine it as Flash.
Apollo 13 proved to be the most harrowing of the moon missions and the one in which the heroics of the astronauts inspired a great movie. It included the quote: “Houston, we have a problem,” which gave me chills even if a couple of the words were wrong.
The space program’s most sobering moment came after the Apollo missions.
Watching the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 was the most wrenching thing I’d ever seen on television.
The scene of Christa McAuliffe’s parents viewing her death was haunting.
Seven astronauts died in that crash and seven more died in the Columbia disaster in 2003.
Last week the space program lost another member as Sally Ride died of cancer.
In her initial shuttle flight in 1983, she became the first American woman and youngest person to go into space, inspiring dreams in many young women.
Astronauts made the world rethink what is possible. They became bigger heroes to me than Flash Gordon.
Advocate Florida Parishes bureau chief Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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