Today, July 20, is the anniversary of one of the most amazing accomplishments that mankind has achieved in the entire history of humanity: on this day in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the moon. But there were three people on this particular Apollo mission, as there were on all Apollo missions: Mike Collins, orbiting the moon in the command module Columbia and ensuring their safe return back to planet Earth, is often forgotten.
And yet, it struck me today when thinking about the Apollo 11 mission and accomplishments that what Mike Collins did is exactly analogous to our daily role as parents. We’re the foundation, the anchor, the astronauts orbiting planet adolescence, making sure that they’re exploring safely and always have a way home. And yeah, sometimes we’re also forgotten in the rush to fete those who are in the middle of the action, good or bad.
What many people don’t know about me is that I’m a space geek and have been a huge supporter of NASA and their missions since I was a child. I followed the post-Apollo space missions (Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Voyager, the Space Transportation System (aka the Space Shuttle) and everything since). I’m tremendously excited about our exploration of Mars and hope to see a manned mission in my lifetime. I even had an offer to intern at the Jet Propulsion Lab while in high school but logistics prohibited me doing so (aka it was too darn far from where we lived).
I was only 8 years old when Neil took that breathtaking first step on the lunar regolith, a small step for man but giant step for mankind, and don’t have any memories of it. And then Buzz Aldrin joined him on the surface of the moon…
Ever since then, NASA, space and space exploration have shown up again and again in my life, including research projects in grad school. Heck, one of the reasons I greatly admire John F. Kennedy is because he started us on the path to the moon with his extraordinary explanation of why we as a nation strove to reach the moon:
“We choose to go the moon… not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”
With the amazing resource of the Web, there’s lots you can still learn about the Apollo mission and the individual roles of the three astronauts. Heck, you can check out Google Moon and learn more about the Apollo landing site, the Sea of Tranquility:
I’m still completely in awe of what these three American men did, these extraordinarily courageous men who climbed into a can atop a massive, cylindrical bomb disguised as a Saturn V rocket and not just survived the trip to the moon, but had everything work perfectly so that the lunar module, the Eagle, could separate from the command module, the Columbia, and land on the lunar surface.
And all this with less sophisticated technology than the cellphone in your pocket.
But, oh, what a view…
Two of my children have had tremendous adventures this summer, thousands of miles away from our home, but throughout I’ve held down the home front, kept the command module humming along, always prepared for any unplanned emergency. One returned, from the Netherlands Antilles, just this weekend and while the world she’s returned to has stayed the same, she, like Armstrong and Aldrin, has changed and matured. And my son? His lunar excursion last a few more weeks and I’m expecting an even more profound change.
And, as always, the command module of our home will remain a safe haven, a place that my children can always return to whether they’re teens or adults.
They’ll always have their adventures, but occasionally they’ll need to splash down…
and I’ll always be ready to help them come back to Earth, safe and sound.
Massive, massive props and respect to the entire NASA Apollo team, from the engineers who accomplished wonders to the team on ground control and the entire team of astronauts that manned the Apollo mission. What an amazing thing, what an accomplishment. Now, about Mars…