I could lose (ok I HAVE lost) hours and hours over the last few days wandering around the 'net ingesting all the writings, photos, video and interactive activities commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It's amazing to me that while the technology I have to explore this event is far beyond what my parents grew up with, the experience they had of the actual moon landing still feels like a moment from the future.
Since I couldn't beam myself back to 1969 for the actual landing, I did my best to experience it virtually. Here are a few items I enjoyed.
The commemorative coverage by The New York Times has been stellar (pun intended), with a variety of celebratory pieces that look backwards and forwards. John Noble Wilford provides a rich, detailed account of covering the space race.
How brief the space race was, the 12 years from the wake-up call by Sputnik to the first Moon walk, but thrilling, mind-boggling, even magnificent at times.
Kenneth Chang looks ahead, laying out NASA's future plans for the Moon and Mars, and raising questions about whether or not Obama will provide the budget to carry them out.
The coverage is not all sentimental and congratulatory. In quite a few of the pieces written by authors who experienced the landing themselves, there is a sense of melancholy and disappointment. A sense that we reached our climax 40 years ago. Dennis Overbye's contemplative piece on moon rocks and A.O. Scott's musings on writers' reactions to the landing both fall into this category. Tom Wolfe, in his Op-Ed piece "One Giant Leap to Nowhere," describes the moon landing as:
Me, though, I'm a romantic when it comes to space, so I still get misty-eyed when I think of Apollo 11. Therefore, I especially enjoyed the Times' multi-media feature which allowed people to upload pics and a description of their memories of the landing. Sometimes I get jealous of the singular moment the world got to experience together in '69. Moments like that are rare - if non-existent - for my generation (um, no, Michael Jackson's doesn't count). But as I clicked through Readers' Moon Memories from Chicago to Italy, I felt like was part of a larger whole, a citizen of the planet.
Luckily, what my generation does have is the Internets, which has given us a whole new set of tools with which to experience events. Todd R. Weiss at PCWorld.com talks about watching the landing with his grandpop when he was 10 years old, and marvels at how the the web allows one to re-live the landing.
"...through the true magic of the Internet, we are able to again see, hear and experience a second-by-second reenactment of that spectacular event and relive it right on our computer screens. We can experience everything from old NASA video images to the original mission audio recordings to crisp new animations of key events that couldn't be seen through live footage."
Also on PCWorld.com, Keith Shaw has put together an overview of technologies born in the Apollo era that we still use today. I knew about the origins of memory foam and marathon runners' end-of-race insulated blankets, however I had no idea that my dustbuster had it's roots in a battery-powered lunar drill developed by Black & Decker for the Apollo program.
And speaking of the original mission audio, We Choose the Moon site lets you the relive the mission in real time. The original audio feed between mission control and the Apollo 11 spacecraft is a presentation of AOL and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that I set my laptop down in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner, cranked up the volume to get the full effect of the static, and fantasized that I was back in '69 listening to it on an old radio.
WATCH - BIG SCREENS
40 years ago, people crammed around their teeny TV sets to watch the astronauts land and get a glimpse of the future. Now we gaze into 50" plasmas and LCDs to relive the past. This New York Times piece rounds up the many programs airing in celebration of the anniversary, including The History Channel's MOONSHOT, a docudrama that combines narrative and documentary footage; and straightforward documentaries such as Discovery Channel's WHEN WE LEFT EARTH: 40TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL and FOR ALL MANKIND, showing on Turner Classic Movies.
Over on the The Huffington Post, Michael Giltz has a more detailed write up about FOR ALL MANKIND, which was directed by filmmaker Al Reinert, aka co-writer of Ron Howard's APOLLO 13. If you missed it on TCM, Criterion has just released a new edition of the film on DVD.
I can't seem to find a mention of a 40th anniversary broadcast of one of my favorite docs about the space program, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON, directed by David Sington. Here's an interview I did with Sington and Buzz Aldrin when the film played at Sundance in 2007.
WATCH - SMALL SCREEN
CrunchGear has put together a collection of YouTube videos related to the anniversary, including NASA's restored video of the landing and a report from Walter Cronkite, now made all the more poignant given his recent passing. I must admit, I got a kick out of the computer graphics used to demonstrate the mission.
The nostalgia surrounding the 40th anniversary of the moon landing has proven catnip to advertisers. Louis Vuitton has a print and interactive campaign featuring Jim Lovell, Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin. The site features a conversation between the three "talking about their adventures in space" in a field filled with cameras set on futuristic-looking robotic arms, which contrast with the pick up truck in the background. The footage from the conversation is mixed in with mission audio and archival footage.