Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking above

The other night, my Dad walked up next to me as I was working on the computer. He asked me, “Do you realize that the computer you’re working on now is better than the one they used when they first went to the moon?”

That sounds incredible, but do you realize that the first space visits to the moon took place nearly 40 years ago? 40!!! It’s amazing how much technology has changed since then. Space travel is, of course, still quite risky. But those risks have gone down considerably, to the point where certain rich people are paying for the right to go into outer space for a day.

With all this in mind, I’d like to share with you an article by Joe Blackstock of the Daily Bulletin newspaper. Joe has some memories of that time 40 years ago, and shares them in this column:

Let's face it, these are pretty hard times, but it's important sometimes to recall we've been in tough straits before and eventually rebounded from them all.
With that in mind, I thought I'd send along a type of Christmas card with an encouraging message from the past.

If you're looking for a depressing time in our history, it's hard to beat 40 years ago in 1968.
America was still reeling from the assassinations earlier in the year of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and riots at the Democratic Convention that summer. Newspaper headlines talked about the violence and uproar over the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam protests.

Consider some of the events of the last week of that forgettable year:
- The worst freeze in nearly two decades over three days ruined a quarter of the Inland Valley's citrus crop. On Dec. 21, the temperature held at 23 degrees for nine hours.
- The uneasy holiday truce declared in Vietnam exploded on Christmas eve with several bombings and small battles breaking the peace.
- The crew of the Pueblo, a Navy ship that had been captured when it allegedly strayed into North Korean waters, was released but the men had many ugly stories of abuse during their captivity.
And not surprisingly, a wire service story reported that due to a large number of American tourists in the Holy Land on Christmas eve, innkeepers in Bethlehem were again turning away pilgrims seeking lodging.

With these sobering events as a backdrop, three men on a long trip provided a little hope 40 years ago Wednesday.

They were at the apex of the flight of Apollo 8 which brought men into orbit around the moon for the first time. They never actually got to the surface, the trip serving as a stepping stone for the first successful moon landing by Apollo 11 the following July.

On that Christmas Eve, astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell and William A. Anders made 10 trips around the moon, looking at sights never before viewed by people of Earth.
Their trip to the moon certainly got people starting to look up, literally and figuratively.
NASA in Houston was inundated by calls from people asking if the white spot near the moon was Apollo 8, the Ontario Daily Report noted Dec. 24.

Officials had to patiently explain that dot was actually the planet Venus.

One of my own most vivid recollections was the photo they took of man's first "earthrise" from lunar obit, as the Earth majestically rose above the moon's surface. And the picture didn't show even a hint of the troubles going on 230,000 miles away back home.
Before being assigned to the mission, Borman was originally scheduled to read a Christmas Eve prayer at his church in League City, Texas. Instead he read the prayer from orbit that was recorded for his church and offered "actually to people everywhere."

It read:
"Give us, o God, the vision which can see thy love in the world, in spite of human failure. Give us the faith to trust the goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts, and show us what each one of us can do to set forth the coming of the day of universal peace."

That evening, the three astronauts put on one of the most remarkable television programs ever attempted, showing live close-up photos of the moon's mottled surface as they flew 70 miles above.

The crew members described the view in wonder and then each read excerpts from the book of Genesis.

Making everyone forget for a few faint moments all the sorrow and despair and pain that 1968 had brought the world was Borman's poignant farewell words that Christmas eve:
"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you all of you on the good Earth."

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Empire history. He can be reached at or by calling (909) 483-9382.

A Merry days after Christmas to all of you as well. Here’s to a fine 2009!