One Step One Leap

The surface is loose and powdery:
I can kick it up loosely with my toe.

Not quite as well-known as the scripted “one small step, one giant leap” statement, perhaps, but this follow-on spontaneous comment by Neil Armstrong on 20 Jul 1969 is true to the spirit and reality of exploration. What would the surface of the moon be like where they landed? Listening to him talk, it seems clear they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into.

I heard, ‘That’s one small step,’
but what was the rest of it?

As Cronkite and another CBS announcer talk over Armstrong’s ongoing commentary — That powdery stuff is adhering to his boots, he says — I want to tell them to shut up. Good grief. They certainly know it’s an historic occasion, but they don’t seem to have any feel for what to do with the air time. I dunno. Maybe give it to the men who are, you know, on the moon?

Ah, well. Maybe the announcers were as excited as the viewers. That would be understandable. It’s been 50 years since the 17-year-old me watched the landing live on the one TV in my parents’ Edmonton house, but watching the coverage again is still exciting.

In the weeks leading up to this anniversary of the moon landing, there have been multiple retrospectives produced — both online and on TV — and endless articles published. We certainly know it’s an historic occasion, but we, too, seem a bit unsure about what to do with the airtime or the bandwidth.

Should we focus on the geopolitics or on the technology or on the historical timeline?

3-photo collage of Apollo 11 and other technology

Newspaper display from Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

On the entire mission or on the landing itself?

On the President who launched the mission and had second thoughts about it or on the three astronauts who executed it?

On the first man on the moon or on the guy who waited up top for his colleagues?

On the mission-control crew or on the regular folks who remember that day as young adults and who come to visit now?

Kennedy Space Centre mission-control room and tourist busOn NASA’s view or on the view from overseas?

On the things the scientists didn’t know or on some of the pioneers who contributed to space exploration?

3-photo collage of space technologyOn the folks who thought we shouldn’t go or on the ones who thought we never did?

On the stirring vision thing or on the next vision being proposed?

On the moon landing being a rare moment of common experience or on it being one of the last such moments?

In plain English, 93 percent of people watching TV on July 19-20, 1969,
saw a man land on the moon.
In New York City, the statistic was 100 percent;
no one with a television watched anything else.

On the script or on the spontaneity?

As with any event, historic or not, it’s like a jewel faceted by a master: Hold it up to the light any way you want, and as many ways as you can.

2-photo collage of moon rock display at Kennedy Space Center


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Feeling Clearly, Thinking Broadly, Through History, Through Space and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to One Step One Leap

  1. Ian Hepher says:

    It has been an interesting retrospective-ish week, Isabel, that’s for sure.

    Last winter, I took my grandson Finn, age 13 at the time, to Get Air, a trampoline park in Lethbridge. He is a bright, funny, interested, well-read young man. I made some comment about his bounces resembling the moon walk. He looked at me seriously and said: “That didn’t really happen, you know.”

    I was shocked. I didn’t follow it up other than to say gently. “Finn, it did happen; I watched it on TV.” Now, reading your blog, I wish I had explored it to find out where he got this idea. I may yet.

    As I think about it now, I find it to be a troubling example of the pervasiveness of faked news.

    • Jim Taylor says:

      I wonder how long denial can last. For how many centuries did some diehards in Europe believe that Columbus had faked his voyage to the Americas? Will skepticism about the moon landings only end when Trivago offers bargain prices for destination weddings on the moon?
      Jim T

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Jim – LOL I’d never thought about that possibility with Columbus. I bet the Indigenous people wish he *had* faked it.

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        Jim — sorry, not even then, alas.
        There are still people who believe the earth is flat, even after THAT photo from space, enabled because the astronauts went on strike unless the spacecraft had windows. The engineers didn’t want them — too dangerous.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Yes, the story of how they took fighter pilots (control freaks par excellence) and made them into astronauts, just along for the ride in the early days, is riveting.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ian – Yes, that is discouraging. I never understood why people would want to be moon-landing deniers. Why not pick something awful? There’s lots of historical events that I wish hadn’t happened, but the moon landing isn’t one of them.

    • Barbara Carlson says:

      When I read that, I despaired. Humans… (I am reading Sapiens…)

  2. Barbara Carlson says:

    I read Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth and found the actual landing description so suspenseful, I wasn’t sure how it would end.

    I used passages in my The Pocket Lint Chronicles book (pp. 344-45) to supplement my back-and-forth emails with the NASA man who oversaw ALL the moon rocks and bits (and dust) that arrived back. It was illegal to sell any of it. If you see any for sale, it is fake. And moon dust, by the way, is very sticky. And, he said, astronauts don’t have pockets!! they are pouches.

    Aldrin also revealed in his 1973 book (Return to Earth) that the condoms they used for collecting urine were a source of great anguish because “our legs weren’t the only things that atrophied in space,” and that the first thing he did when he got out onto the moon’s surface was kick the dust and watch it sweep away in great arcs; the second thing, while the world (unknowingly) watched in rapture, was pee. (And, apparently, he’s never lost his resentment at being the “second man on the moon.”)

    As for one of my pet peeves (and justification for thinking most people are uncritical thinkers) is that nobody — for years! — corrected Armstrong’s mis-speaking which he eventually accepted after years of insisting he’d said, “One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    My peeve: Man and Mankind — the same thing!
    Perhaps if he had practiced “THIS man” he wouldn’t have flubbed it, but who can blame him. I’m surprised he could remember his own name, much less a very short speech.

    But his calmness and “Right Stuff” saved the landing, as the computers failed, and Armstrong (whose pulse rate in those moments was 150 and only seconds of fuel left if they wanted to blast off once the mission was over) piloted the craft to lightly touch down between boulders.

    I also read why it took so long for them to emerge: They had a night’s sleep and “he and Buzz were washing up their dinner dishes.”

    And, by the way, I’m probably the only person who DIDN’T watch it happen. My husband at the time had no interest (!) and we didn’t have a TV. A great regret of mine, and since rectified, but that marriage — can you see why? — didn’t last long. He also didn’t know (for three days!) that Kennedy had been shot. He was busy studying.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Now that’s a guy who’s off the grid! As for the sticky moon dust, that’s interesting. I’d never heard that but now it’s twice this week, once while listening to Armstrong talk about the dust sticking to his boots.

  3. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – of it all, I personally like Collins’s comment that when he was behind the moon in each orbit , Mission Control couldn’t bother him.

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