Remembering Apollo 11

I was in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre earlier this month to participate in a showcase by Samsung Canada of its new QLED 8K technology. 8K incorporates remarkable innovations. Its brilliant colour, clarity and sound provide consumers with an immersive experience – the next best thing to actually being there.

Samsung is also marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In partnership with the CNN news network, it has sponsored the broadcast of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary by filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller. Thanks to this Samsung/CNN partnership, the Apollo 11 story will be more than a fading memory for the few of us who lived in the late 60s. This milestone in modern history will live on and continue to inspire.

Buzz Aldrin in “Apollo 11,” a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller. Credit Neon CNN Films.

At last week’s Samsung Canada event, I was asked to say a few words about the significance of the Apollo 11 moon landing to me. This is what I had to say:

———————————————————————————–

Along with a half billion other people from around the world, I sat mesmerized in front of a television set on the evening of Sunday July 20, 1969. From a living room in Kelowna, BC, I watched a video transmission that was being broadcast from the surface of the Moon.

Imagine that! From the surface of the Moon.

Only hours earlier, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had skillfully piloted their Apollo Lunar Module to a nail-biting landing near a crater.

The ensuing moonwalk was memorable. The black and white, low-resolution TV images of Neil and Buzz bounding across the lunar surface in their white spacesuits held my attention and fired my imagination. I ran back and forth between my living room with its TV set, and our yard outside with its view of the moon, to try to comprehend what was happening.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (and an image of Neil Armstrong reflected in Buzz’s visor). Credit NASA.

Several years earlier, as he kicked off the Apollo moon program, the late US president John F. Kennedy said “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.” JFK went on to say that we do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Those were inspiring words for me – a young teenager with stars in my eyes!

In my opinion, the Apollo 11 moon landing was the highlight of the 20th century. It took everything that humanity had – a culmination of a decade of technology development – to pull together this capability to get us off the planet.

The New York Times front page from July 21 1969

Although the Apollo moon landings were an American endeavour, the whole world watched the event. We viewed it as a world achievement. Humanity had reached another celestial body! It was euphoric for all. For the first time, we considered a re-definition of the word ‘humanity’. We began to consider our planet as simply a cradle and to consider humanity’s role to one day leave this home and to populate other worlds with life from Earth.

And the Apollo moon landings gave humanity optimism about the future. If we could put a man on the moon, then we felt as a human species that we could address the other tough problems of the day … universal healthcare … civil rights. We felt we could tackle anything.

So perhaps Apollo’s greatest benefit was that it inspired our society to take on near-impossible challenges. It empowered us — to be our highest selves.

The impact of the early space program was felt not only at the societal level – but at individual levels as well. I was personally engrossed by the series of lunar missions. The Apollo astronauts became my heroes. They and their exploits influenced my choice of a STEM educational path.

This path led to an amazing career. I was fortunate to one day be selected as an astronaut by the Canadian Space Agency and to fly two missions. The highlight of my career was a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station. The opportunity to view our planet from the Station has enhanced my appreciation for the glorious beauty of our planet, as well as an awareness of the fragility and vulnerability of the biosphere. The opportunity to work on something bigger than myself has changed my notions about civilization and international collaboration.

I certainly don’t consider myself a peer of the early astronauts and cosmonauts. Neil and Buzz performed on a much higher level than I did. They shouldered greater responsibility and took bigger risks. But I do share with them a similar passion for challenge. Spaceflight is “not easy, but hard”. The depth and breadth of astronaut training “measured the best of my energies and skills”. It regularly and satisfyingly took me to the limits of my mental, physical and emotional capabilities. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

The next giant leap in space exploration will be to deep space – a return to the Moon (in five years), to an asteroid (in ten years) and then on to Mars (in fifteen). Our grandchildren may explore the ice moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Our great-great-grandchildren could voyage to interstellar destinations.

Canadian robotics and astronauts will be part of the upcoming Lunar Gateway space station. Credit MDA Maxar Technologies.

I encourage everyone to see the documentary ‘Apollo 11’. It is something special. The movie features archival footage as well as ground-based 70 mm film and audio recordings that have never been shown publicly. It can be viewed on YouTube, Google Play and Vudu.

The Ontario Science Centre (and other science museums in Canada) is also screening a shorter, big screen version in its IMAX® Dome theatre – a great way this summer to mark one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.