NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 18th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s commentator Cal Thomas with his first-hand memories of the space race.
CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: You had to be there 50 years ago, and I was. As a young reporter for a local TV station in Houston, I frequently visited NASA—which we dubbed “the space base.” I met many of the astronauts and reported on their exploits.
I also watched the lunar landing with the rest of the world on July 20th, 1969—fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of that decade.
A new, three-part PBS documentary, “Chasing the Moon,” recalls the American space program, which followed the Russian launch of the first satellite in 1957. It is a brilliant film, created and directed by Robert Stone. And it’s a useful reminder for the two generations born since then of what a united America can achieve.
CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite put it this way: “It shows what the richest nation in history can do when it puts its mind to it.”
Jack Lousma, one of the astronauts who followed the original seven, later became a close friend. Lousma was the CAPCOM recipient of the “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” message from Apollo 13. He was also the pilot for Skylab 3 in 1973. Later, he commanded the third space shuttle mission in 1982.
I asked for his remembrances of that time and about the legacy of America’s most famous spaceflight.
Lousma said—quoting now—“Apollo was a bright light, a ray of hope, a force for ‘good’ during the Vietnam War controversy with its riots, civil unrest, demonstrations, violence, turmoil, burning draft cards…
“Unpredictably, Apollo unified the world for a short time. I recall photographs of people in many nations watching TV during the landing … a worldwide sense of ‘oneness’. They were not just ‘watching;’ they seemed part of our team, as if this were a victory for all earthlings, not just for the U.S. We were vicariously representing each one of them.” End quote.
It wasn’t all ‘The Right Stuff,” as Tom Wolfe wrote. NASA covered up the extramarital affairs and excessive drinking by many of the earlier astronauts. Officials feared hurting public confidence in the program.
Lily Koppel writes about this in her book, “The Astronaut Wives Club.” In a review for The New York Post, Susannah Cahalan writes that out of “30 astro-marriages…only seven couples would stay married. To the outside world, they were perfectly coiffed, apple pie baking housewives. But with their sisters, they allowed their armor to fall, the tears to drop, and the truth to come out.” End quote.
Like today, we’re left to wonder how such flawed human beings can accomplish great feats. But history recognizes that they were great feats.
And in today’s divided nation, it should be more than an exercise in nostalgia to revisit those exciting years when space really was “the final frontier” and America came to lead the way in exploring it.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.