Here it is at last, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In the long and decidedly mixed history of human beings, this is certainly our crowning achievement so far: the first extraterrestrial excursion by earthbound beasts. Be sure to tune in to We Choose the Moon to hear the real-time lead-up to the landing.
The YouTube video above is the song “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me” by Jethro Tull. David Bowie is all well and good, but for me, this is the ultimate space exploration song: a wistful meditation on the thoughts of Michael Collins, the astronaut who kept the orbiting capsule safe while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set their feet on the moon’s surface. Collins had quite an odyssey of his own, though; while the orbiter was behind the moon, he was the most isolated human being in the universe. As he says in his 40th anniversary Q&A:
I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what
on this side.
Collins is also a very wise man on education (at least from my very biased perspective):
We definitely have a national problem in that kids seem to be going for money rather than what they consider ‘nerdy’ careers. Other countries are outstripping us in the quality and quantity of math and science grads, and this can only hurt in the long run. But a liberal arts education, particularly English, is a good entry point no matter what the later specialization. I usually talk up English.
Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny both imagined an official place for poets on journeys of space exploration; perhaps Michael Collins can suggest that NASA project planners read “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” and “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” to secure a place for English majors on our next journey beyond Earth.