So, yesterday League-Pal Julia P. alerted me that her sister, who is a student worker at UT, had landed passes to an amazing event on campus. And, apparently, Rachel's friends are a bunch of dorks with no sense off history or the American Spirit, because they passed up a chance to see three living legends.
This evening I joined Julia, Rachel, Shoemaker and a few hundred other folks to see a panel/ reunion of the Apollo 8 Mission members of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.
If you don't know who those guys are, well, you should probably watch more TV or whatever the hell I did to know who they were (I do read, occasionally, but let's be real).
LBJ's daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, opened, and was hilarious. Must be nice to be a Robb and LBJ's daughter, but, anyway, it was terribly sweet.
Moderated by Jim Hartz, the panel more or less took Apollo 8 from start to finish, and gave Anders, Borman and Lovell an opportunity to share some great stories from the mission. And, of course, to describe what it must have been to have been to be the first people to see Earth from beyond orbit, one of the defining moments in human history.
The first Earthrise photo, as snapped by the Apollo 8 mission
It was interesting to hear the context in which these gentlemen described how they thought of the space race, just as much or more a true front in the Cold War and a way to defeat our ideological enemies, as much as building a monument to innovation and achievement.
Some of the Apollo ground crew was in attendance, including Chris Kraft, one of the mastermind of NASA Mission control. The astronauts were more than generous in giving credit where credit is due, and reminded the audience of the extraordinary work that went into putting the missions together.
Its a tough night to describe. We've all got a little hero-worship of these guys, and if you don't, you should. These are the ones, both astronaut and engineer, who achieved the unthinkable and created a new way of looking at the world and the place of our little blue marble against the cosmos. And while they speak knowingly of the weight of the mission, its unpracticed and honest when all of them described the how's and why's of being a part of the Apollo missions in straightforward terms.
I don't know if mankind's destiny is beyond this little backwater planet on the edge of an unremarkable galaxy, but I like to think of how America and even Russia put forth their greatest efforts by their best and brightest to achieve the unachievable. That a war could be fought by sending rockets to space rather than at one another, and that in doing so, return to our planet wiser, with greater knowledge and with new dreams for mankind.
Lynda Johnson Robb mentioned that her father sent copies of the Earth Rise photo to every single leader of a nation, not as a sign of Earth's might or technical superiority, but as a sign of our world as it is. A bright dot against the dark, and that's what we have in common.
Years ago someone sent this to me for The League of Melbotis Christmas Spectacular, and its largely why I know about the Apollo 8 Mission.
On Christmas Eve, 1968 the astronauts of Apollo 8 were in orbit around the moon, unsure if they would return safely to Earth, roughly 238,857 miles from Earth. Family. Safety.