50 years later: Space is still calling

50 years later:  Space is still callingBy LAWRENCE N. COSNER JR., MD, News Review Columnist

I grew up at Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake. Sure, it’s now called Naval Air Weapons Station, but I’ll always think of my childhood home as NOTS. And outer space was very important to all of us proto-scientist children (read: geeks and nerds).

So while the summer of 1969 held for me sorrows and fears – after all, Star Trek had been canceled, and I’d have to change schools, restarting on the lowest rung as a freshman at Burroughs High School — still, that summer shone with wondrous glory, because: MANKIND WAS LANDING ON THE MOON! I mean, it was the first step to colonizing Venus and meeting aliens and exploring the stars! No science-fiction-reading, physics-studying, dork-talking, self-respecting kid could help but be excited to be a part of that summer, no matter how distantly related we were to the Space Program.

And in truth, we were not all that distantly related. Every one of our fathers and/or mothers knew someone at NASA, or worked with someone at NASA, or — deeply exhilarated <sigh>! — actually traveled to some NASA site to work! My dad did so, though only once that I knew of. Yet it was a direct, palpable connection, however fragile, to which I often clung.

So there I was, our television my tenuous umbilical to our space endeavors, in mid-July with the endless summer of childhood in full swing. We, like 70-percent of Americans, had only black-and-white television. I knew families with Color TV (wow!), but it was still more than a year away for us. Yet that grainy, monochrome image nonetheless kept us bound on the living room floor as witnesses to the drama that would play out.

I remember the early days, the launch and the frequent updates, were enough to keep me mostly in the house, despite the call of freedom from outdoors: the O-Club pool (which contained a new-fangled fascination: Girls! In Bathing Suits?), my recently refurbished bicycle, friends’ houses to visit – but for a few days those draws seemed distant, muted. So the day of the launch, the 16th came, and the days of travel ticked by: the 17th, the 18th, the 19th.

And as the 20th approached, and became real, I found myself wondering how long it would be until we had a habitation there? Nay, a full-scale colony, that people — regular people like me — could come and go from. And a space port that would serve as a stepping stone to other worlds?!

But there was one step that had to come first. Glued to the TV screen, I and my whole family watched that contrasty, sometimes hard to interpret image of Neil Armstrong, climbing down the lunar lander ladder, stepping out on the moon, and saying to the world, to America, to me, words which will (I hope) reverberate down the long halls of history: “That’s one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.”

Of course, we now know that we didn’t go back but a few times, and never built a colony, and that regular folks like me have still never made it to space. But space still hangs there, black and immense, above our heads, calling us. And for an aborning scientist/explorer, a nerd-child like me, it is hard to imagine a greater, more memorable day, to solidify that dream.

Pictured: Larry Cosner in 1969 and today

Story First Published: 2019-07-19