I was six.
We lived on the West Coast, so we had to get up early to see it. Grainy, on a small-screen, huge-bodied black and white television full of vacuum tubes, the mighty rocket standing, and the countdown…
“…4…3…2…1…LIFTOFF We have LIFTOFF of Apollo Seven!”
It was 1968.
I didn’t understand very much about what was happening except that we were going to the Moon, and this was a step.
We were going.
To the Moon.
I already knew, somehow, that I lived in the future. And you can laugh about that, that a kid in 1968 would think things so advanced, but we had cars and submarines and planes that could cross the oceans, and we had rockets and we were going to the Moon.
I got up to watch Apollo 8, too, which actually did go to the Moon, orbited around it and returned. I remember the Christmas television broadcast, Frank Borman saying, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”
And it WAS a good Earth! Apollo 8 gave us that first whole-disk look at the good blue spaceship we call home. This photograph, here:
And then, of course, it also gave us the extraordinary, world-changing view of Earthrise over the Moon.
Historians say that the publications of these images marked the true flowering of the environmental movement, worldwide. We could see how small it is, our Earth, floating in the bleak, cold darkness and yet so welcoming, so hospitable.
Later, those astronauts would begin to report what would come to be known as the Overview Effect: a state of awe containing a deep, warm, protective affection for the entire Earth, regardless of human boundaries or cultural differences. They brought it back to us. Many have made it their lives’ work to try to communicate what it is like, to see the Earth as they have.
So, that was Apollo 8. I watched 9 and 10, too.
And then I remember 11.
Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. The descents of the ladder, the famous words, the men walking on the Moon.
I followed the subsequent missions, too, of course. But once the propaganda war had been won, Richard Nixon had little use for the initiative of a Democratic President he had hated. After Apollo 17, it was over.
And it stayed over. For fifty years and counting.
Until this week, when Artemis I–Artemis the sister of Apollo–launched, crewless, to repeat the figure-8 around the Moon that Apollo 8 had done so many years ago.
It’s going to take a few years, but we’re going back.
I cried when Artemis went up. The little boy in me who wanted to go to space more than anything is so relieved, somehow, that we, collectively, are going back.
I believe in humanity’s capacity to do Big Things. I believe we can, through a combination of adaptation, cultural and technological change, survive the climate disaster we have wrought. I believe we can create equitable systems that will feed, clothe, educate and house all of us, give us each a chance, as well as to bring us into closer alignment with the needs of the ecosystems of Earth.
And I don’t believe that doing that would mean we can’t do amazing things like go to the Moon.
Now, I’m not naive. Currently, we are terrible at priorities. Trump gave a $1.9 trillion tax cut to the wealthiest, and exacerbated his failure there by ignoring COVID-19 and letting it eat both lives and money.
But for a tiny fraction of that expense, we can aspire to something that transcends national boundaries. Something that belongs to all of us.
There isn’t a child on Earth who hasn’t reached up towards the Moon and tried to touch it.
Twelve white men have done so (well, with gloves and a pressure suit on, but still).
At long last, their ranks are going to grow, finally, and diversify.
I hope I live long enough to see it.