I was just reading a bit about a new documentary, Apollo 11, that apparently uses all original NASA footage to document the launch, the landing on the moon, and the return to earth. Apparently the film is quite something — it includes a lot of never-before-seen 70mm footage that has been sitting in archives for the last 50 years. Anyway, the review reminded me of a weird thing I used to always think when I was a kid — that I was born before the moon landing, and therefore experienced it, even though I was too young to remember it. I felt quite some satisfaction that I was around for it.
There are a few other events that fall into that category that loomed large in my childhood mind. I guess the biggest one was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which happened in April 1968, three months after I came into the world. Martin Luther King was a towering figure in our household and I think I felt his loss keenly, once I was old enough to realize what that meant.
It seems odd to me, even today, that those two events should be such a part of my personal history, to the exclusion of other major things that happened around the same time. The assassination of Bobby Kennedy, for example, didn’t register, although it was certainly significant. Nor did the riots at the ’68 Democratic convention, the election of Richard Nixon, or the fall of Saigon make any splash in my consciousness (I never thought “Hey I was alive for the election of Richard Nixon!”). In fact, the only positive event I thought of as being part of my early childhood, was the moon landing. Everything else was doom, gloom, and disaster.
I know this must say something about my worldview today. The fact that I am inclined to believe there is an engineering solution to most problems must come from my sense of ownership of Apollo. Maybe my continuing belief in the power of non-violent protest comes similarly from my closeness to MLK’s death. And if this is true, I wonder what my nephews and nieces think about what happened around their birth? Does my niece Nora think to herself “Hey I was alive when Obama was elected!”? Maybe… and that’s a good thing, if it’s true.
What I doubt any of them are thinking about, is technology. We engineers don’t have much to show off since Apollo 11 — nothing so flashy, anyway. Maybe it’s time we put some real effort into flying cars.