The True Day to Recognize​ Apollo 11

Although the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, the mission was not truly over until July 24 when it returned to Earth. Like ascending Everest, you had to get back down to truly make history. So today deserves at least a footnote in the history books.

Getting back safely was no small task, as we learned from Apollo 13, remember “Houston, we have a problem”? Indeed, Apollo 11’s splashdown was initially upside down. William Safire had drafted a statement for Richard Nixon to read if the return were unsuccessful, and I know we all are grateful never to have had to hear it. Instead and during the worst of the Vietnam War, he claimed the world had never drawn closer. Best to leave that without comment.

Over time, we have stopped using the phrase, “If they can send a man to the moon…”. I suspect that is not because the thought was worn but because we aren’t so sure we could again. There have, however, been recent references to the idea of a “moon shot” for things like climate change, which is something truly worth considering although it seems to be growing rather late for that.

In noting today’s significance, I certainly don’t mean to diminish the magic of July 20th, 1969. It was one of those days I can say exactly where I was at the time, and I marvel at the moment still. In thinking about that day and time, I wrote this short poem that reflects some of my own thoughts.

July 20, 1969

            After John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

I was schooled to cower 

under the shelter of 

my wooden school desk

to hide from fallout

raining from the sky

in blasts brighter 

than the noonday sun

raising umbrella clouds

to announce the end of days

But for one July evening 

I lay under a clear night sky 

in a field damp with cleansing dew

while man walked far above

on a waxing crescent promise

that we might someday

rise high enough to look down

upon our own self-destruction

and perhaps once more

to touch the heart of God

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