FLY ME TO THE MOON PLEASE
Confessions of a Lunatic
It is hard, if not impossible, for me to believe that it has been forty years since man first walked on the moon. If you are over the age of forty-five, you can remember the night when Neil Armstong took a giant leap for mankind. I do. I remember it as if it were yesterday. And it was yesterday, but that was four decades ago.
It was way back in the late 1950s, when I went outside one night to see something in the sky. To this day, I don't remember exactly what it was, but I wasn't alone. As my parents, my sister and I came outside on a warm clear evening, there were many people standing in front of their homes on Stonewall Street. I believe it was some kind of satellite, American or Russian, I really don't know. Judging by what I remember of the number of people looking toward the heavens, I will assume they were patriotically looking for an American object orbiting the earth. Someone spotted the white light as it crossed the sky and yelled "there it is!"
I began to look more at the sky, the stars, the planets, and the Moon. I remember watching Alan Shepard and his rocket on our little black and white television. I remember John Glenn as he orbited the earth. The significance of these flights and the competition with the Russians was lost on me. I was only five to six years old. I had a hard time riding a bicycle, let alone ever thinking about climbing in a capsule and being blasted into space.
It was about 1963 when I came in contact with the space program. Well, not really, but it was close. I was with my family on vacation at Jekyll Island when I had heard my mother and grandmother talking about the fact that Dr. Werner Von Braun and his family were staying at the Buccaneer Motel where we were staying. I only knew he had something to do with the space rockets. I was playing in the kiddie pool with a blonde haired kid I didn't know. He told me that his name was Peter. After having a great time playing with Peter, we heard someone calling his name. We looked up to the penthouse apartment. It was his parents calling him to come up to their room. It never dawned on me until later that I was playing in the pool with the son of the man who practically invented space rocketry. That was the same trip, 46 years ago yesterday, when the moon covered the sun completely across the northern United States. I remember seeing my first eclipse on television. I wanted to go out to the beach and watch it, but my mother said that the sun would burn my eyes. I went outside anyway and squinted to get a quick view of a partial eclipse before my eyes, or at least one of them, got fried.
Every chance I got, I watched the space flights on television. I watched Walter Cronkite on CBS tell me and the rest of the country what the astronauts were doing way up there in the heavens. I read the newspaper articles about the Gemini space flights. I never read anything else in the newspaper unless it was a story about the Dublin Irish football game, the Braves score, or if my name was in the paper. On one of his trips to Washington, D.C., my daddy brought me a N.A.S.A. book showing photographs taken by Gemini astronauts of the earth below. That was it. I was hooked and I wanted to go into space.
The moon has also been a special place to me. Just call me a lunaphile. I never get tired of looking at it as it changes its face every day. I was a teenager when I learned that when the moon was full that the waves at the beach were the best late in the afternoon. There is something special, almost spiritual, about seeing the reflection of the moon shimmering in the water or seeing it peaking out from behind the buttermilk clouds of the night.
As our country was being torn apart by political strife at home and across the world in 1968, it came together if only for a moment on Christmas Eve. My family was making our annual visit to my Thompson grandparents that evening when we walked into the living room. In the corner, I saw that the television was on, tuned to the flight of Apollo 8. I knew what was going on. I had been a space geek since the flight of Apollo 7, when I began to make scrapbooks of each of the Apollo flights, cutting my clippings from newspapers and magazines.
I was only twelve, but I was deeply moved as I listened to Commander Frank Borman read from the first verses of the Book of Genesis. I wanted to be there. I still want to be there. That night, my grandmother presented me with a present. It wasn't in a box, but it came in an envelope. She told me she got it on a trip to Florida, where she and my grandfather once lived and worked to make it through the Great Depression. It was only a piece of paper, but my oh my, what a piece of paper it was. It was a deed. My lawyer daddy told me that a deed meant that you owned land. My eyes bugged. It was deed to a piece of the moon. Though it wasn't a real deed - a fact that I knew - it did say that I, Scott Thompson, owned an acre on the moon. Wow! It would be some thirty-five years later when I actually bought a small speck of lunar dust taken from the equipment brought back by the Apollo 12 astronauts at a much higher cost than what my grandmother paid for my pretend deed.
Then, the big event came. It was a time I had been waiting for a decade. It was an event that man had been waiting for since Adam took a walk on his first evening on the earth. I had seen the launch, recording it on my father's tape recorder so I could listen to it over and over again. A few weeks later that my mother would pick up a souvenir 45 rpm record at Winn Dixie with special audio moments of the entire mission. Later that next year, I built a capsule from a dishwasher box (my mother's first), complete with a tape recorder, television, periscope, and lighted panels fashioned from my mother's blinking Christmas tree lights.
It was a Sunday evening, July 20, 1969. My mother had planned one of her famous theme parties. Guess what the theme was that night. The lunar module Eagle landed just after 3:15 that afternoon. The moon walk was scheduled for later that evening just before 10:00 p.m. I don't remember what I ate that night, just going in and out the door to see what I could see in the sky. It was my mission to watch the moon landing on television and at the same time watch the moon as well. I had enough engineering skills to accomplish my objective for the night, but I still tested my equipment a few times before the company came. This was no easy task since we had only two televisions and only one cable outlet in the family room, too far away from the sliding glass doors to see the moon and the tv at the same time. So, I got some regular electrical cord, stripped the wires on one end and wrapped them around the screws on the back of the main television and peeled back the covering of the other end of the wire and hooked it to the upstairs tv, which I set in a strategic place on the patio just at the spot where the moon peeked through the oaks of Hunger and Hardship Creek swamp.
As long as I live, I will never forget the sight of Neil Armstrong coming down the ladder of the LEM and stepping onto the surface of the moon. I watched astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin late into the night as they walked and hopped around and planted the flag, our American flag, on the surface. I kept on watching the astronauts on the moon until the last lunar flight of Apollo 17. I felt closest to the Apollo 13. Jim Lovell, the commander, was and still is, my favorite astronaut and a true American hero. This was the Saturn V rocket I saw on my first trip to Cape Kennedy on a church choir trip during spring vacation in 1970, just weeks before the fateful flight almost ended in disaster. I spent that weekend with a man who was on the ground crew. He took me back out near the cape to see the illuminated rocket, shining like a beacon in the night.
I never have lost sight of the moon. Every day I see it in my kitchen, perhaps the only kitchen in the country decorated with the "the man in the moon." I did meet moonwalker Buzz Aldrin in Atlanta when I opened the door for him and gave one of my heroes the directions to the autograph show. I could have met John Young when he spoke to the Dublin Rotary Club, but my darling brother didn't invite me as his guest.
On this 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, I am anxious to walk on the moon and right now! I know my heart wouldn't hold up to the grueling gravitational forces necessary to escape the Earth's gravity. But, I am ready, so fly me to the moon, please!
P.S. Walter, when I get there, I'll see you at Tranquility Base at the third crater on the left.