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Column: Some day, soon

Posted: July 23, 2018 3:19 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.

I don’t know that I remember exactly where I was the moment Neil Armstrong jumped off the ladder, landed on the moon and uttered his iconic line, but I do remember watching it.

As any 5-year-old would be, I was probably running around in an intensely excited and scattered state, maybe playing with a toy rocket -- back then a heavy, sharp object coated in lead paint -- or jumping off the back of the couch onto the lunar family room landscape, probably barely escaping the wrath of the flailing ass-teroid belt, wielded by Ming the Merciless, also known as “Dad,” who was likely not amused at his youngest progeny’s antics.

I do remember a couple of things, though. At the time, we were living in northern Virginia and our next door neighbor just happened to be NASA Director Werner Von Braun’s chief of staff. I wouldn’t know until much later just how cool that job actually was. All I really remember about those days was that our neighbor was kind enough to bring me lots of NASA souvenirs -- photos, star maps, booklets, etc. -- and that he put up with the same question from me after every single moon shot: “You’ve already been to the dumb old moon. When are you going to Mars?”

His answer, as I recall, was “Some day, soon.”

And in all actuality, he was absolutely right.

My grandfather used similar words, way back in theday, with his own children, pointing at the moon from his rocking chair on the front porch and saying, “some day, soon, children, a man will go there.”

If my grandfather made such a preposterous after-dinner prediction to my mom and uncles in 1939, it was only three decades later -- still in his lifetime -- that his preposterous prediction came to pass.

Here we are, half a century -- most of my life later -- and we have robots on Mars, a couple of roving satellites headed for the outer limits, as it were, Chuck Berry records blasting and all, and folks are working on sending people to Mars even as I write this. If I am lucky, I’ll get to see it happen.

Far fetched? I don’t think so. Far more incomprehensible to me is how much we actually take for granted the miraculous leaps of technology we’ve made in such a short amount of time. If you go back and read about the Mercury 7, the Gemini astronauts and everything leading to the Apollo missions, you soon find that you’re walking around with something like 1,000 times the computing power in your cell phone than the computer systems that sent men to the moon.

We all were horrified,  shocked, saddened and surprised by the disasters that befell the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. And yet, those very outcomes, while obviously not hoped for by the Apollo astronauts, were far from unexpected. One of the classic nuggets of gallows humor was Gus Grissom’s observation that the Saturn V, the command module, the lunar module -- everything they were using to go where no man had gone before --  was built with money from a government contract awarded to the lowest bidder.

And here we are, 50 years later, with all kinds of resources at our fingertips -- all of which came into existence because we wanted to  go to the moon -- and we did.

I would really like to see this generation get to Mars. I’d like to see them go back to the moon. I’d like to see this and more. And I think it will happen, a lot sooner than even we think.

Some day, soon.

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