By Phineas J. Stone
This week, there is one less man left alive who has walked on the moon.
Former astronaut Gene Cernan passed away, and left this Earth as one of the last men living to have set foot on the moon. There are only a couple more left, and all are very old. Soon, there will be no one with a first-hand account to share of setting foot on the moon, and what that incredible experience must have been like.
At one time there were at least 12 men who planted their feet, and the American flag, on the surface of the moon. It was an incredible time around here and across the nation when all of that took place – prompted by a president from Boston who pushed and pushed to get us to an unimaginable goal.
Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon Dec. 14, 1972, and his and any other first-hand accounts are being lost quickly.
What a thing that is.
As a young man, I believed we would all have been to the moon by now. I can’t remember anyone who thought differently. We got there so quickly and so resolutely – becoming almost routine at a point – that my father used to tell my cousins and I that one day we would vacation on the moon.
I still remember it all.
Sitting in his La-Z-Boy recliner, yelling, “Boys, come to the front room. Look here. This man’s walking on the moon. Don’t forget this. Some day you’ll be up there living or taking a vacation. We’ll all be there. This is the new frontier.”
He and my uncles used to constantly say that at one point America expanded to the Old West, tamed the Wild West, and now we have simply moved on to the moon. They were quite serious in believing that Mars was on the horizon as a place for human habitation by the mid-1980s.
Guys like Gene Cernan made the every-day guy believe that just about everything was possible. In those days, Boston wasn’t a nice place to be, in all seriousness. We had not taken care of this great city very well, and industries that had been founded here pretty much destroyed the place and then high-tailed it for the suburbs or overseas. So, too, did many of its middle class residents.
Yet the national mood carried conversations in a very positive direction.
If we could have a Boston guy say we were going to walk on the moon, and then we did it about a dozen times – well, just about anything else was likely to happen in the future. We were going to have Jetson flying cars, food replicators (an idea my aunts loved because they wouldn’t have to cook any longer); mental telepathy was a given.
Which is why it’s so peculiar that nothing much of the sort ever did happen. The moon, or even the space program, are an afterthought nowadays. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut; none of them even consider it now. After Cernan – who I idolized as a kid – walked on the moon, it was all over. Who would have thought after all that public exuberance, it would come to nothing in the end? We haven’t been back since, nor have we even talked about the trip.
I guess there’s no value to dreaming big any longer.
Space is bore.
We’re mostly concerned now with what isn’t, rather than what could be.
Maybe that’s why so many conspiracy theorists have grown in popularity when it comes to preaching about the possibility that the moon walks were fake, and that it was all staged in Hollywood. I’ve seen reams of documents stating that all of these walks by astronauts were carefully calculated movie productions.
One of the funniest moments in this vein of thinking came a few years ago when a conspiracy theorist was harassing astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969. Aldrin was headed into a hotel and the man was relentless in confronting the astronaut with information about his moonwalk being fake – filming it all on his cell phone. While Aldrin tried to be nice about it, the guy just wasn’t going to let up.
Finally, as they stood face to face, the man said something that seemed to be the last straw for the famous moonwalker.
Pop! Aldrin gave the guy a hard right hook to the jaw; knocked him to the ground instantly.
And he didn’t care if it was on video. He looked at the guy lying on the ground, looked at the camera and walked off.
No one did anything.
Now that’s a man whose been to the moon…and back.