I went to see First Man over the weekend. I did this with the primary motivation of re-instilling my youthful love of NASA. I was seven years old when the Eagle landed. The summer of Apollo Eleven was one that remains etched in my memory. There were toy rockets and coloring books and an older brother to keep me fascinated by all things lunar. My family was sitting in the audience of the Central City Opera's production of Die Fliedermaus when a chorus member burst onto the stage shouting, "The Americans have beaten the Russians to the moon!" Perhaps the only time this line appeared in any version Johann Strauss' operetta.
This was a year after I had gone on a Space Odyssey thanks to Stanley Kubrick. I was hungry to go beyond the bounds of the earth. It was becoming more and more clear to me that if heroes were to be found, they were not going to be found in the White House, or on the battlefields of Vietnam. My heroes were astronauts. Michael Collins, "Buzz" Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong: The crew of Apollo Eleven.
Especially Neil Armstrong. The first man on the moon. The first person to set foot on something that was not Earth. The first human to be counted as a lunar citizen. It wasn't until I sat in the audience of the film of his life that I started to contemplate all the ways that things could have gone horribly wrong. Apollo One ended tragically. All three of those astronauts died in a fire before their rocket left the launch pad. The part I had not considered, as a starry-eyed seven year old, was what could happen if Aldrin and Armstrong were unable to take off from the moon once they had landed at Tranquility Base. Eventually the food water and air would run out. Rescue from the moon? Not a possibility.
When the movie was over, I thought about where my heroes come from these days: sports, rock and roll, movies. Movies? Pretend? Where were the explorers and innovators and risk takers?
Where were the astronauts?
At last check, a pair of American astronauts crash landed with their Russian counterparts on a failed attempt to reach the International Space Station. They are fine, but the crew on the space station is left without replacements. There are people in space right now. Not on the moon, but hanging out off Earth. Do you know their names? Did you know that Russia is going to stop sending people into space, due to cost and safety?
Do you know where your heroes are?