Yesterday's Magazette

9 – The Apollo Mission

Digital artwork of the moon based on an original photograph taken by the author using an 8-inch telescope.

The Apollo Mission

By Richard Ong

As I peered into the telescope and bathed in the warm glow of the moon’s reflection, I found myself looking into the night sky once again as a boy of four with eyes that glisten with eager anticipation, waiting for the Apollo rocket to reach its destination in July, 1969.

I snapped a picture of the moon and smiled. The dark shadows of the craters’ inner walls reminded me of the sheer jagged mountains of rock which I’d seen on several photos of the moon mission in numerous magazines in the past.

This would be as close as I’d ever get to the moon, to imagine what it was like to be an astronaut and orbit that little insignificant piece of rock above us. I touched the cold metal of the barrel through which moonlight penetrated and bounced off the large mirror at its base, giving me an illusion of closeness that the Apollo astronauts experienced when they burst through the clouds and into the heavens above.

“How far is it to the moon?” I asked my uncle, who had a collection of National Geographic magazines.

“Very far,” he said.

“Can we go up there? It looks nice and bright.” My voice was filled with excitement as my tiny fingers reached out to try and catch the yellow orb in the palm of my hand.

“Some day,” said my knowledgeable uncle. “If you study hard enough and get good marks in school, then you might get a chance to fly up there. If the Apollo mission is successful.”

“What is the Apollo mission?”

“Well, remember that tall white rocket ship you got from your mom and dad on your birthday last year?”

“Yes! That’s my favorite! I can separate the pieces from the middle and the top. But it’s not so easy putting it back together. I have to ask my brother to do that for me and he told me to stop pulling it apart.”

“It’s a complicated toy.” My uncle smiled. “But do you remember the top part of the rocket where there’s a small window for you to see the three astronauts sitting inside?”

“You mean, the tiny pilots?”

“Yes, those tiny pilots. In space, they’re called astronauts.”

I remember being thoroughly confused by these big words swimming in my head. I tried to focus as hard as I could until wrinkles formed on my skinny little boy’s forehead. “What is … space?”

My uncle suddenly looked at his watch, took my hand in his and said. “Come, I’ll explain it to you on the way back inside. But we must hurry! It’s almost time for the evening news and they’ll be televising a replay of the Apollo moon landing. You don’t want to miss that!” With those words, he hauled me up in the air and carried me into the house.

“Well, is it on yet?” my uncle asked my older brother. My uncle laid me on the floor, but I scrambled to my feet, almost tripped over my brother’s shoes as I ran toward the couch,  where he sat glued in front of the small black-and-white TV in the living room.

“Get out of the way!” he shouted. “Do you want to ruin your eyes?”

I didn’t care. Instead, I laid on the cold ceramic floor with my chin resting on my hands, eagerly waiting for the newscaster to make the announcement.

My uncle said that space has no air and that it separates the clouds above from the moon. This meant that the astronauts would have to carry their own air inside the space ship in order to breathe. The distance in space between the earth and the moon was so large that it took the Apollo 11 spaceship three and a half days to reach its destination.

“Just like automobiles, the Apollo spaceship needed to carry a lot of gas to travel a great distance,” my uncle said as he seated himself onto a bamboo chair next to my brother. “Sh-sh.. everyone keep quiet now. The show’s about to begin.”

I was never one to sit still and be quiet. I always asked a lot of questions.

But for some reason, that night was special to me. I laid on the floor without uttering a single word as I burned into my mind’s eye the blurry image of a man climbing down a ladder. This man carried in his suit everything he needed to survive the next few hours in the airless void of the rock that circled above us.

It would take a long time before I finally understood the importance of this historic event. However, one hot summer night in July, 1969, the wonder of how man was able to fly into the sky and beyond towards the moon was forever captured in a little boy’s imagination. In the years to come, the books I read to feed my appetite to learn more could never assuage my desire to reach out and see the surface of the moon for myself.

I did not become an astronaut. My path lead to a different direction. Nonetheless, the desire to witness what these intrepid space explorers did up close almost half a century ago remained strong.

So I smiled at the bright and detailed image I’d taken on the digital camera. The tall telescope it’s mounted on would have to serve as my avatar. In my own way, I, too, had traveled a great distance in order to bear witness to the stark beauty of the desolate lifelessness which had remained unchanged since the time of the Apollo.

In the end, that was their legacy – our continued efforts to strive and reach out to our dreams and make them a reality for ourselves, to our children, and our children’s children.

Vol. 37 No. 2 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Summer- 2010

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