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Taken For Granted: One man's space junk is another's history

February 04, 2012|By Pat Grant

Lift off. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and I were pulling G’s and climbing toward the stars. And that’s the closest I ever got to space travel — sharing an elevator ride with this famous voyager to the moon.

I was 15 when the Russians launched the first satellite in 1957; a spindly little aluminum ball that did nothing but whirl around the Earth and beep. At night we strained our eyes to catch a glimpse of this tiny moving dot in the sky.

The first feeble efforts of the U.S. to launch a satellite were almost comical; one Redstone rocket after another crashed and burned on the launch pad. Rocket scientist Werner Von Braun became that contradiction in terms: a good Nazi. We desperately needed the knowledge he and his German rocket scientist pals had gained building the buzz bombs fired at London during World War II.

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As a product of the first TV generation, I was raised on Captain Video, Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Flash Gordon. I loved airplanes and wanted to be a jet pilot, but bad eyesight ended that dream.

Like millions of kids my age, I got caught up in President Kennedy’s challenge to beat the Soviets to the moon. I took every science and math course I could get in high school anticipating becoming an aeronautical engineer. After two years of college engineering, I crashed and burned just like our early space launches and switched to liberal arts.

Alas, the country would have to put a man on the moon without my questionable math and science skills.

I vividly remember that July day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. My sole connection to the event was a family member who worked on the moon-lander. He took understandable pride in his contribution to the space program, but whenever his chest swelled, recalling the object he had designed that sat on the moon’s surface, his equally brilliant daughter was quick to remind him that she also had a claim to space fame, having built a portion of the Mars rover which sits contentedly on the red planet!

All of this was brought to mind by a recent article in the New York Times regarding what are now considered to be historical artifacts left on the moon. Archaeologists who normally spend their time digging for ancient pottery shards in the Middle East have become concerned that any future visitors to the moon may not pay due respect to the trash our Apollo astronauts left behind.

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