“…one small step…”

Funny thing about space. It’s a void, measurable only by using objects found in its borderless arena. You can’t see it, but you can travel through it, aiming for something that’s actually visible. Like the next gas station. Or maybe an all night diner. Or perhaps the moon…

This July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic landing on the surface of our Earth’s only natural satellite. Through September 2, the traveling exhibit Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, has set up camp at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

With a friend’s recommendation, my husband and I made the trip across town to see the creative inventions of yesteryear’s ambitious would-be air and space travelers. Just what was their inspiration? How did they manage such a monumental feat? Time to find out…

Fiction’s future

The Museum of Flight is a popular attraction any time of year, so I purchased our tickets online several days in advance. Selecting our target entry time for a morning slot, we queued up with the rest of the AM arrivals.

Once inside, we headed straight for the Apollo 11 exhibit. While I did expect to see NASA equipment, I was entertained by the inclusion of everyday memorabilia from the 1960s—and pleasantly surprised to see the representation of two famous authors: American born Ray Bradbury and French born Jules Vern.

First published in 1865, “From the Earth to the Moon” shared the incredible imagination of Mr. Vern with science fiction fans all over the world. Given the premise and details of his story, it seems to me like he was predicting the future.

Mr. Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” published first in 1950, gave sci-fi fans the chance to imagine what life would be like on the surface of Earth’s next door neighbor long before NASA’s InSight touched down on the Red Planet.

Seeing the acknowledgment of these two authors at this exhibit reminded me just how important a factor imagination is to the science of discovery. How much these and other stories inspire space exploration. But to accomplish that, we needed inventions. And guidance. And a little motivation…

Future’s past

There’s nothing like a friendly (?) competition between Cold War countries to inspire a race into space. In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit—surprise! Not happy about not being the first to do so, the United States introduces the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the world the following summer.

Three years later, President Kennedy declares when the US will reach the moon: within ten years. But—how? Time for NASA to roll up its sleeves…

When planning an expedition to some great unknown, sending a scout—someone or something—ahead first to gather a little intel can prove very helpful.

When scouting the moon for possible landing sites, NASA sent a total of five different lunar orbiters (built by Boeing) to photograph the surface up close. In August of 1966, Earth photobombed one of the pics. Us earthlings had our first glimpse at our home planet from the moon’s point of view. Less than two years later, three astronauts would experience that lunar viewpoint too—and plant a US flag on the moon’s surface…

Thanks to the Saturn V Rocket—and a whole lotta designing, planning, engineering, training, construction and practice, Neil Armstrong would become the first person to set foot on the moon. Buzz Aldrin soon joined him, while Pilot Michael Collins maintained the mothership in lunar orbit for their return.

Four days after the astronauts’ boots made their moon marks, the trio’s return capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. And the world would never be the same…

Seeing famous artifacts that returned at the end of a mission—like the Apollo 11 command module—or things recovered from the seas years later—was truly amazing. But my favorite item (aside from the moon rock) had to be the framed front page of the Seattle PI’s August 26, 1966 sunrise edition: THE EARTH AS SEEN FROM THE MOON. Transmitting photos via satellite is a pretty quick trick nowadays, but back then—from the moon?

Tomorrow’s present

Leaving the exhibit, we launched ourselves into the museum’s main building. A two-level metal and glass hanger, this structure features various forms of air transportation from years gone by, now suspended from the ceiling or parked on the floor. Other than the mail delivery prop planes, my favorite item had to be the flying car. Sadly, this prototype never got off the ground, so to speak…

Attached to the glass hanger stands a bit of history all on its own. The Red Barn, Boeing’s original airplane factory, now showcases equipment once used to construct canvas and wood framed wings, along with other early aircraft parts.

Photos, promo posters, and lots of memorabilia, reflect the hard work, dedication and dreams of yesteryears’ factory workers, engineers, pilots and their passengers. This part of the museum helped me remember that no matter what the current year is or the available technology, timeless qualities—like dreams and dedication—are what will fly us into tomorrow. Always.

Neil Armstrong’s “…one small step…” truly was and remains today “…one giant leap for mankind.” What will our future giant leaps represent? One can only imagine… J 🚀🌝

 

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