It was 40 years ago today, July 16, that the Saturn 5 rocket destined to throw men to a landing on the Moon lifted off its launch pad atop an enormous pillar of flame. Apollo, "has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy" according to a Wikipedia article, was the image of manly beauty. So it was with the spaceships. They gleamed white in the floodlights by night; the pristine metal towers glistened by Florida daylight. The Moon landings showed us humans walking and leaping upon the surface of a neighboring world. The men who made those journeys, especially that first one to land –Apollo 11– were rightly called heroes, for their courage if for no other reason.
Like seemingly everyone else in the world, I watched that launch, that landing, that walk on the Moon in wonderment. Even today, these four decades later, I look back, study the photographs, and am glad I was around to see the accomplishment. There are now many good books filled with personal and technical detail, and easy access to high-quality images of the stunningly beautiful and "magnificent desolation." It was a grand adventure and we all felt like participants.
In 1971, I was privileged to receive a Reader's Digest Grant for student journalism, funding a trip to Cape Kennedy and participation as a member of the press corps. Wistfully pawing through my small collection of materials from that trip, I recall what an adventure that was: to report on the launch of Apollo 14. A great deal of attention was focused on the launch — Apollo 13 had proved bad things can happen to spacecraft; would Apollo 14 fare better?
With other members of the press, I was bussed to a spot too near Pad 39A the night before launch, made some photographs, and heard the bus driver chewed out by NASA security — well, at least firmly told to leave. The next day I elbowed my way to the cordon just in time to watch and photograph Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell boarding their van to be transported to the rocket. Later I heard and felt the thunderous percussion of the Saturn 5 as it rose from its pad and disappeared through the clouds. That great rocket, the powerful, beautiful Saturn 5, shook the very earth upon which I stood some three and a half miles distant, and this young reporter was choked up.
So remembering Apollo 11, and Apollo 14, and all the others, and the brave men who rode towers chased by fire, I send out my admiration and appreciation. It was a time of greatness for beautiful Apollo and for all who made those great accomplishments possible.