The Soviet Union’s jump-start to space exploration, with the launching of Sputnik in 1957, left egg on America’s face and galvanized the Space Race that would last between the two nations well into the next decade.
I was just two years old in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy announced, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” A few years later, I was beginning my elementary school days, and, at the same time, the nation was ramping up its efforts to improve science education in order to produce the best science minds for taking on the president’s goal.
As the Apollo mission reached a fevered pitch in the late sixties, I was finally having science added to my daily lessons. Truthfully, most of the lessons simply involved reading a text and filling out worksheets, but I was in heaven! I loved science! I loved learning about atoms and cells and pulleys and levers and electricity and biology. I ran to the library and checked out all the books I could find about rocket ships and future plans for inhabiting the moon. I begged my mother for money (from an already overstretched bank account) and bought my own books about the moon from Scholastic.
I followed the race to the moon in the newspaper and clipped articles for a scrapbook that now, fifty years later, is yellowed and faded. I wanted to be an astronaut, despite the fact that I could barely make it through a ride in the family station wagon without getting carsick.
Along with other boys and girls my age, I stayed up late on July 20, 1969 and rejoiced as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the moon’s surface. A few years later, we held our breath and prayed in the middle of class as the astronauts of Apollo 13 had to abort their mission and figure out a way to stay alive in order to return safely to Earth. Throughout junior high school and high school, we watched four more Apollo lunar modules land on the moon. The country moved on to Skylab and space shuttles which still had the power of stopping science fanatics like me in our tracks to watch launchings and landings and, sadly, a few disastrous mishaps.