Moon landing: 40 years later, Tahoe/Truckee locals react
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Small steps are rarely as immortalized as the stride Neil Armstrong took onto the moon 40 years ago next Monday. And, rarely has such a small step meant such a great deal.
July 20, 1969, meant a fulfilled promise the late President John F. Kennedy made to America eight years earlier in a 1961 speech to Congress. It meant the backbreaking work of politicians to keep the immensely expensive and often controversial U.S. space program financially paid off. It meant years of scientific research in fields from medicine to rocket science to computing proving their value. It meant a declaration of Cold War supremacy by the U.S. against the Soviet Union.
To Paul Guttman, an Incline Village resident and astronomer, it meant all those things, encapsulated not solely on that moment, but in the journey and discoveries which led to it.
Guttman, a medical officer based in San Francisco with the U.S. Public Health Service in 1969, remembers watching the landing in between seeing patients on a TV screen in a hospital. The Public Health Service assisted in a number of experiments to aid NASA, chiefly to study the effects of zero gravity on the body by keeping test subjects in bed for six months to a year.
and#8220;We were incredibly proud, strutting around in our uniforms,and#8221; Guttman said. and#8220;I was born in and#8216;41, so my earliest memories from school were of us ducking and covering under our desks. You have to understand we always lived under the cloud of the cold war, and to be the first to the moon we proved we were equal if not better than the Russians in space, and it swung world opinion in our favor, if only for a time.and#8221;
Guttman said he remembers marveling at the footprint Armstrong left in the lunar soil.
and#8220;I remember we were all very interested his footprint was only maybe a half or an inch deep,and#8221; Guttman said. and#8220;For a time we thought the surface was just like quicksand.and#8221;
Dr. Milton Heifetz, a Truckee resident, retired neurosurgeon and author of books on astronomy, said the statement made that July day is more important than the landing itself.
and#8220;It’s not so much the memory of the event, or not even the landing that’s important,and#8221; Heifetz said. and#8220;It’s what it’s done to the youth of the world who dream and reason and have a sense of awe of their ability to fulfill their dream.and#8221;
Heifetz said for children to look into the upper right-hand corner of a full moon and pick out the Sea of Tranquility where Armstrong and Edwin and#8220;Buzzand#8221; Aldrin walked sends a powerful message.
and#8220;To look up there and realize some man actually walked on that area, that’s awesome,and#8221; Heifetz said. and#8220;The thing that was important was achieving a goal you didn’t think was achievable.and#8221;
For Tony Berendsen, an astronomer who leads Tahoe Star Tours around Lake Tahoe, the moment of the landing stands out in his mind as a culmination of his youthful interest in the space program.
and#8220;I remember waking up every morning in my youth to listen to Walter Cronkite talk about our progress,and#8221; said Berendsen, who was 17 years old in 1969 and living in Silicon Valley. and#8220;My three brothers and sister were parked in front of the TV set that night, and my mom got home right as Neil Armstrong was taking his first steps onto the moon. We were all ecstatic and she couldn’t believe it and#8212; she was born in 1931 and didn’t believe it was real, so much had changed in her lifetime.and#8221;
Berendsen said he remembers following the launches from a young age, and putting astronauts on a pedestal as his heroes instead of musicians and entertainers.
and#8220;For my generation, the landing wasn’t as much about the politics and Cold War as it was about the fact we thought we could do anything, the possibilities were limitless,and#8221; Berendsen said.
The landing took place just before 8 p.m. PST, but Guttman noted the moment was a long time coming.
and#8220;We were glued because it was the moon landing, but hadn’t been glued to everything before then, because it was a process,and#8221; Guttman said. and#8220;We’d watched the Mercury missions and Kennedy’s challenges and knew we were building to this, from one level to the next. To me, it wasn’t just about the success, it’s about the failures along the way, because that’s what science is about and#8212; learning from your failures.and#8221;
The failures were plenty. Kennedy acknowledged in the 1961 speech the U.S. fell behind in rocket technology in the space race with the Soviet Union. The Soviets first put a satellite into space with Sputnik in 1957, a moment Guttman said he remembers watching from his home in Sacramento. In 1967, three astronauts died as the Apollo 1 mission exploded, failing to leave orbit.
But, Heifetz said, most versed in science knew the day was coming when man would land on the moon.
In the 40 intervening years, much has changed in medicine, technology and world politics, both men said, in no small way due to NASA.
and#8220;That program really launched the computer age,and#8221; Guttman said. and#8220;You have more power now in an iPhone, more computing power, than was running that spaceship.and#8221;
Heifetz said years of data from NASA’s research helped immensely in all fields of science, even medicine.
and#8220;The technology that emanated from NASA permeated all technical areas,and#8221; Heifetz said. and#8220;The amount of research which emanates from NASA turns into data and as a physician I received their technical briefs for 30 years and you wouldn’t believe the little bits of data that have permeated into society. NASA did a lot more than shoot people up into space, it’s the process of doing that which is a great benefit to society.and#8221;
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