Apollo 11, 50 Years Later

Apollo 11’s Lunar Module reached Mare Tranquillitatis fifty years ago this month. I remember hearing Neil A. Armstrong announce the landing site’s name: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

A few hours later, Armstrong opened the Lunar Module’s MESA — a storage locker built into the lander’s side.

A television camera in the MESA showed us Armstrong’s, and humanity’s, first step onto another world.

Back on Earth, one out of every five people were watching: at home, in pubs, at cafes, in New York’s Central Park and at shop windows. Pope St. Paul VI watched at the Castle Gandolfo observatory. Folks in Moscow watched, too: with a four-hour tape delay.1

Meanwhile, Back on Earth

Humanity’s arrival on another world wasn’t the only noteworthy event in July, 1969.

Following their agent’s instructions, Vanilla Fudge arrived in North Hampton, Ohio. The concert was in Northhampton Township, near Dayton.

India’s Prime Minister nationalized 14 private banks. The banks held about three-quarters of Indian deposits. Jayaprakash Narayan called the move a “masterstroke of political sagacity.” And that’s another topic.

Thailand’s Royal Rainmaking Project flew its first field experiment, seeding clouds over the Khao Yai National Park. Results were mixed. Rain fell from the clouds, but not over the target area.2

Science and a Flag

Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours, 30 minutes at Tranquility Base.

They were outside the Lunar Module for two and a quarter hours; setting up equipment, collecting photos and setting up equipment: and, 25 feet from the Lunar Module, an American flag.

That was a tad too close. The Lunar Module ascent stage exhaust toppled the Lunar Flag Assembly — flag, mast and all. The incident’s fraught with symbolism, and may have inspired solemn soliloquies on the futility of it all. Or maybe not.

The Tranquility Base science equipment lasted longer.

PSEP, the Passive Seismic Experiment Package, stayed active for 21 days. The Laser Ranging Retroreflector, LRRR, is still used. Occasionally.3


Some folks in my country didn’t approve of all the fuss, so they hosted a protest march near the Kennedy Space Center.

They had a point.

America in the late Sixties was not a new Camelot. Our government hadn’t abolished poverty and avenged all injustices.

I might have been more impressed by anti-Apollo protests, if social activists had protested Super Bowl ads and the Academy Awards with equal enthusiasm. Maybe they did, and I didn’t notice.4

Somewhere along the line, “if we put men on the moon, why can’t we…” stopped sounding relevant — and joined “relevance” wherever cliches go as they fade away.

I don’t think designing, testing and building technology that sent a few folks to Earth’s moon and back is more important than people. But doing that is arguably easier than solving ancient social ills.

If the choice had been to either make spaceships or help people, I’d pick helping people. It’s a matter of priorities. I think people are more important than things.

I’m not convinced that dealing with social ills or developing technology really was an either-or situation.

Scenarios where Our Hero must save either The Professor’s notes or a Pauline clone can make good stories.5

Sometimes life is that simple. But not often, I think.

Paying Attention

Backing up a little, I think people are important. I also think acting like humans is a good idea.

I thought so before becoming a Catholic. What’s changed is what I know about why being human is okay.

We’re told that God creates everything, and sees it as “very good.”

We’re created in God’s image. We’re very good too, basically. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 268, 279, 299, 301305)

Humanity isn’t God’s greatest blunder.

God writes knowable physical laws into everything we can observe. (Catechism, 268, 279, 299, 301305; “Gaudium et spes” 5, 15, Second Vatican Council, Bl. Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

If we’re paying attention, everything we learn about this universe will reflect a facet of God’s truth. (Catechism, 302308)

Learning about this universe is a good idea. It gives us more reasons to admire God’s work. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 282283, 294, 341)

Having Problems

If we’re basically good, living in a very good world, how come we’ve got problems?

As Supreme Being said in Monty Python’s “Time Bandits,” “I think it has something to do with free will.” (November 6, 2016)

The Catholic Church goes into a bit more detail on the subject.

There’s a considerable gap between how we should act and what we actually do. We’re dealing with consequences of a bad choice. That makes doing what’s right is difficult. Putting it mildly. (Genesis 3:113; Catechism, 397409, 17761794, 18491869)

Thinking that logical consequences happen isn’t even close to believing that we’re “loathsome insects,” and that’s yet another topic. (January 8, 2018)

We can misuse science and technology.

But studying this universe and developing new technology with what we learn is part of being human. (Catechism, 22932296)


A half-century after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left Tranquility base, we still have problems.

Cities “undimmed by human tears” are an unfulfilled dream. (July 4, 2019)

Folks who should know better act badly. Injustice happens. (February 17, 2019)

Ranting about the unfairness of it all is an option. So is writhing in agony over humanity’s collective angst: and trying to make you feel miserable, too. Neither seem like good ideas.

Instead, I’ll recap what I keep saying.

Individuals and societies are important. Each of us should be working for the common good. The common good includes helping individuals and society grow and flourish. (Catechism, 19051912)

We’re not all alike. We’re not supposed to be. But we each have equal dignity.
(Catechism, 361, 369370, 1929, 19341942)

I don’t see a problem with noticing non-wretched events. Or maybe even celebrating when something goes right. And paying attention to what needs fixing.

To be Continued

This is where I was going to start talking about Lucian of Samosata’s “A True Story,” other tales of trips to the moon, and a 1950s series about space travel.

Maybe I’ll have that ready by July 20: the Apollo 11 landing’s anniversary.

My reason, or excuse, for not having that bit ready is that my oldest daughter arrived last week for a visit.

As I said before, it’s a matter of priorities. While my daughter was here, I could use my time for writing, or talking with her. I figured the writing could wait. I’ve already got part of the ‘before Apollo’ post ready, so finishing it by Saturday seems reasonable.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 Visiting another world:

2 In other news:

3 Science and technology:

4 Protest:

5 On the sometimes-silly side:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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