I just watched the movie, Apollo 13, for about the 100th time. It’s one of those films that whenever I see it is on, I feel completely compelled to watch it again. There are only a handful of films that I feel that way about, and in this case though I think it is a good movie, I know it is the subject matter that draws me in rather than the film itself. The magnitude of the malfunction and the amazing ingenuity which enabled them to work through multiple solutions to get those astronauts home again was really quite extraordinary. When you think about it, that happened 43 years ago, and the technology was so much less evolved, but it worked, and it was incredible.
I think my fascination with the Apollo missions is a generational thing. My sons for instance, do not share my sense of wonder and amazement. In fact it is a running joke whenever we look for a movie to watch together – that someone will bring up Apollo 13, and I am the only taker. Years ago, I became engrossed in a book by Andrew Chaikin about the history of the Apollo space program called, A Man on the Moon. It was an amazing time in our history and reading about it in detail was enthralling to me. The whole idea is magical.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I remember watching the launches on funky old television sets, which were wheeled in to our classes in elementary school. Every little boy in class wanted to be an astronaut, though sex roles being as they were at the time, I don’t remember feeling like that was an option for me or any of the other little girls in my class. Nonetheless, the missions were big news at the time, in a world less “informed, exposed and aware” as we are today, so the space program took on a special significance.
This evening, when my sixteen year old son wandered through as I was watching the end of the movie he made the comment that “the space program was a waste of money and that we really didn’t learn anything important from it.” Ugh… I couldn’t elaborate on the scientific discoveries which came out of it specifically, beyond the development of technology and engineering that allowed such missions to take place and whatever was learned about the moon itself. But I also believe that exploration for its own sake is valuable. How do we know, what we do not know if we do not undertake the mission to find out?
Our curiosity and quest for knowledge and understanding is to me one of the best things about human beings. Despite the extreme expense of the space program, I am still a fan. I guess my sons don’t want to grow up to be astronauts, and I will still be watching that movie alone in years to come, but I value the inspiration it stirs in me and the awed I feel when reminded about the incredible things humans are capable of when they put their minds to it.