I wish I had some memories of Apollo 11,…

I wish I had some memories of Apollo 11, but I don’t. I think I can still answer the questions in a general way, though.

I was four years old at the time and was almost certainly watching the events on TV with the family, so why didn’t it make a lasting impression on me? My theory is all about timing. I was achieving sentience just as the Apollo program was getting into full swing, which means that when I started understanding the world around me, landing on the moon was just something that we did. I had no concept of the preceding millennia of human history during which it was an unachievable fantasy.

My vague memories of the rest of the period bear this out. I was interested in the space program (I remember being able to draw a pretty accurate Saturn V as a first-grader), but in the same way that some little boys are interested in earth-moving equipment or dinosaurs. It was just part of the world; we’d been landing on the moon regularly for as long as I remembered.

Perhaps that’s why the only specific Apollo memory I retain is of the launch of Apollo 17: it was novel because it was a nighttime launch. Perhaps I also understood that it was the last of the series, but I doubt I understood just how final it was.

How did Apollo affect my life? It’s hard to point to anything concrete; I didn’t become an aerospace engineer or anything like that. It seems likely that I would have gravitated toward technology and science fiction anyway. I don’t know how to answer that question without going back in time and assassinating Wernher von Braun to see how my life would have been different.

How should Apollo be remembered in world history? Well, I’ve already talked about what I see as its true importance in the political realm, as a part of the Cold War. Unfortunately, the overtly peaceful tone of the program (“for all mankind” and so forth) has largely obscured that aspect; people are more likely to see Apollo as an inspiring moment for the planet, rather than a resounding American victory, which is what it was.

It probably also contains a lot of lessons in the area of engineering history, since NASA — during that short period — seemed to do so much right. There’s no limit to what you can achieve, as long as you have a well defined goal and an infinite budget.

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