Forty-six years ago today, 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module Eagle and stepped onto the surface of the moon for the first time in human history.
I gazed in awe scrunched near a small black and white TV, pressed ever closer to the grainy screen by a mesmerized cluster of fellow interns at the University of Maryland sorority house we together called home that summer. With his “one giant leap for mankind” we cheered and paused collectively to reflect.
“Man on the moon!” Walter Cronkite said giddily, later adding, “Oh boy!”
But that’s not all. Because I worked in Washington, DC that summer as an aide to several major players in the United States Geological Survey(USGS) in downtown Washington, two days later, on July 22, 1969 this totally green college kid from Iowa gazed at those surreal moon landing pictures firsthand. Up close and very personal.
My job at the USGS in downtown Washington brought daily thrills: everything from basking in a personal White House limo ride to the United States Capitol to hand-deliver important documents to plotting on maps all the important landmarks situated on the San Andreas Fault for potential earthquake alert. But that historic day in July when one of my bosses asked me if I wanted to see the moon pictures, I was speechless. My boss took my stunned silence to mean YES and so off we went to the FBI.
First fingerprinted. Then mug shot and background check quickly done. No surprise to me, I netted a top security clearance badge. What espionage can a teenage college kid do from Iowa?
We returned to the USGS and took the elevator down what felt to me as a hundred flights to the lowest level of the heavily guarded USGS where in a semi-darkened room the glorious photo gems in full color were lying helter-skelter on tables.
I could have touched them. They were that close.
Near as I could tell only the President and his Cabinet and closest aides had seen these pictures and so I gazed silently, awestruck by the beauty and the wonder and the honor.
I couldn’t breathe.
It’s like seeing the brush marks up close on an original Rembrandt.
Against the blackness of space the earth seems a precious multi-colored jewel set in a sea of darkness, like a magnificent mix of brilliant varied shades of blues, whites, browns, and greens.
I am a small speck living on this jewel in the vast vista of the black universe and, at the same time, I sense privilege and honor to call this jewel of earth my home.
A time to wonder. A time to pray. A time to remember.
“… rising and gliding out,
I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. “
Walter Cronkite quote taken from Phil Rosenthal’s article entitled Walter Cronkite’s star will be forever aligned with moon landing in http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/columnists/chi-sun-new-phil-rosenthal-0719jul19-column.html
When I’d Heard the Learned Astronomer by Walt Whitman– taken from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174747
photos courtesy of: