May 25 is an important space date. Why?
- Fifty years ago this day, President John F. Kennedy announced before a joint session of Congress his plan to land “a man on the Moon” by the end of the decade.
- And 34 years ago this day, the first (or fourth, depending on your level of geekdom) the Star Wars movie premiered in theaters and stunned audiences with its visuals.
On the first, I was a mere 3 years old so you’ll forgive me if I really don’t remember the speech. But on the second I was a college freshman standing in line on a rainy Florence, Ala., night to buy tickets for this movie everyone was talking about.
Settle in, because this is where I desperately try in a few words to turn a calendar coincidence into something meaningful. Failing that, I’ll eat up a few minutes of your time that you’ll never get back.
On this date, back in 240 BC, the passage of Halley’s Comet was first recorded – or so says that source of all knowledge, Wikipedia. It’s a space thing too. Unfortunately there aren’t any other space anniversaries on this date, so I can stretch this calendar metaphor only so far before the space-time continuum begins to unravel. Instead, I’ll stick with the man on the moon and Star Wars (for you geeks, that’s Episode IV: A New Hope. Yes, I had a lengthy discussion about this last week with my teenage son).
The Kennedy announcement was a moment of hope, a challenge to a nation by its young, charming president. To put a man on the Moon. Wow. Try describing to kids today how technologically challenging that seemed back then, try telling them about how it felt as much like science fiction as it did science fact.
It was a big deal. Need proof?
Deep in my stash of dusty albums (remember records?), somewhere between the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane, there’s an album of the Apollo 11 spaceflight.
Yes, as an album.
Someone gave it to me when I was a kid. It’s full of the chatter back and forth between Houston and the spacecraft as it hurtled toward the Moon and, upon landing, Neil Armstrong uttering that famous phrase: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Those words still give me a chill. Maybe you had to be there with the rest of America, hunched around television sets, for it to have that effect.
Movies are like that too, that shared sense of wonder, though obviously on less grand scale. While I love my DVDs and streaming a movie via Netflix, those experiences will never replace the shared moment of watching a terrific film you’ve been dying to see in a dark room with a few of your friends and a lot of likeminded complete strangers. Oh, and there’s the smell of popcorn.
For me, good recent shared movie moments are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or perhaps the Harry Potter films. And for some of us, maybe it was that first Star Wars movie (or fourth movie, I know – get a life, geeks).
I suppose every day is special. Certainly with the magic of the Internet you can find a long list of events tied to any particular date – useful for something to talk about at parties or as gist for yet another online essay designed to take up digital space. In this case, though, I find it mildly meaningful that Star Wars and Kennedy’s call for a man on the Moon fell on the same day.
Because in many ways, our sense of wonder has been diminished. And that’s too bad.