July 20, 2006
One Small Step for a Man... revised
One Small Step, Neil Armstrong's Foot print
I wrote this post back in 2004 prior to having the ability to post photos. I post it again with some photos sent to me by a reader who works for NASA. Thanks
Thirty Five years ago today, our world changed, We had, through an effort not seen outside of wartime experience, pushed back the frontiers and landed on another world. It was a monumental achievement, due in large part to the vision of what we now call " The Greatest Generation". From first flight to space flight in less than a century is flat out amazing. I don't believe we today have the vaguest notion of the blessing and benefits of this effort, nor the staggering costs in money materials and human life and potential that went into the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Programs.
When I speak of the cost of human life, yes, I do mean the Astronauts that have died in flight and on the ground, but I mostly mean the men and women that worked themselves to death literally to meet a deadline...To win the "Space Race" that really was a real war fought against the Russians, to be the first to the moon and to secure it against the communist threat... This was a very real threat...The very thought that a weapons platform could be built and used to launch nuclear missiles was a real possibility and one of the uses that the Space Shuttle was designed for... But I digress.
Lift Off Apolo 11 lifting off at Cape Kennedy Space Center Florida July 1969
How do I know all of this... I and my family were a part of the human wreckage left behind. My father, caught up in the vision of this incredible idea that we could send men into space and get them home again safely, was all consuming and for nearly 10 years he devoted his entire life to the research and development phases of the environmental and propulsion systems of these space craft. He ate, slept, and lived for this... And not only him, but thousands of people did. People slept in offices and lounges, had meals for days and days brought in and worked at this war effort with a single mindedness that dot commers in the 90's spoke of with admiration...What was the fruit of this effort, beyond the "one small step for a man..." And the thousands upon thousands of modern conveniences we take for granted each day....
On the other hand there were darker realities...
At the firm in California where my father worked there were three deaths a week, at least one of those was a suicide....
People died, from heart attacks, sleeping drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse... People divorced, relationship deteriorated and fell by the wayside, I remember my fathers secretary coming to our house black and blue from her manager husbands beating, I was four and I shall never forget the haunted look of the disillusioned... She went home the next day to find him dead in his car in the garage, overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning. Children were neglected grew into despondent and angry teens and joined others of their kind in the 60's counter culture, where drugs and the hippie lifestyle were a stark contrast to the white shirt and tie world of NASA and the government/military culture of their parents.
My father had many demons, He was a high school grad that worked his way into aero space through the assembly lines at Hughes aircraft. He was driven by many demons. He was an angry man, bent on proving his value to the world. He was also a perfectionist who clung to guilt like a life line. This sort of person is so exploitable... He took on more and more projects. (At the time that he left North American Aviation in 1969, he had 33 end items or projects on his desk. He was replaced by 4 engineers, 4 designers and 3 draftsmen.)This was a profession fraught with problems and possibilities, there were many things that nobody really knew how it was going to turn out. And some things, which we saw in "Apollo 13" that were creative but required reworking... I read a memo that Dad had saved that said, "Call Roberts at Downey R&D, he has the answered to problems that we haven't even thought of yet..."
And sometimes they that called upon his inventiveness listened, and sometimes they did not...He knew that the oxygen enriched atmosphere in the space capsule was a death wish waiting to happen. He was told that it would be looked into and when the fateful day came for that trial run and those poor men burned to death on the pad in front of a stunned helpless group of well meaning but exhausted scientists, it spurred him into a greater frenzy of activity. We never saw him at home...
Cap Com Mission Control
My brother told me once that he didn't know really who our father was until he was 4 or 5 . That was when my mother collapsed and was hospitalized and Dad had to give up the space race for a month and look after us. I remember during that period, one day, being picked up at school being taken home, dressed in a fancy party dress and being taken to a NASA staff meeting. I remember sitting in the back of the room listing to all of this discussion, then later going the the local watering hole, where I was fussed over and treated like the little princess... Perhaps that is how I developed my taste for older men...
Salute the Flag
Never eating, living on alcohol and sleeping pills, Pushing and pushing himself mentally and physically to meet the demands, then he was told that he needed to "take some time off" and was handed a pink slip. The next day was Landing and that fateful afternoon, July 20, 1969...Seeing Neil Armstrong climb down that ladder was a stunning moment...We stared all four of us, at the TV, then I noticed the tears. My father's tears. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. My mother took us away we went to our rooms and for the next three weeks we were house bound. Drapes drawn and silent as my father collapsed into a mental breakdown that he never recovered from. He attempted suicide, and begged my mother for the pistol that she had secreted away months ago. She never gave out what happened during that event, but I do know that he tore the house up and beat her for the first and only time in 30 years of marriage. The "Long Night" as I call it, ended, when he agreed to enter a mental hospital. He weighed 125 lbs and was so malnourished and ill that the doctors there said that if they could keep him alive two weeks the could help him.
He returned to us two years later, broken in spirit, not the man he was at all, and still a bonafied alcoholic with a drug habit. Unable to work, to cope with any strife or conflict, or to be a husband or father, he lived with us for 20 more years and died of multiple cancers and arterial sclerosis from smoking...he was 64.
Many people ask me when they find out about my background, "hey, what about Mars?" "What do you think about the Space Station?" I smile and say... "We are not committed enough. We lost two Shuttles for this lack of commitment to the program and they are so outdated technologically that I have my doubts about their future." We have no commitments to the effort as a people or a government. Until the Space program is of national interest, and we are in a position to pay the cost and I do mean all of the costs and the sacrifices needed, we will not see that day. Its a bigger effort than most can comprehend, and for those of us that have paid the price, we are not sure we want to pay it again...
lift off Space Shuttle Discovery
See this very good article from MSN on this subject
I wrote this on the fly, and I have ajusted some of the data. I also realized that I had more to say...(Thanks Smooth for the Comment)
I think that the reason that my father had his breakdown on the physical he was a dead man walking, he was in such bad shape. Runners doing marathons sometimes just colapse at the finish line and have been semiconcious for a while but keep on running...on the emotional level, I think he felt his life was over. It was all that he had lived for all that gave him value. I never heard him say this, but I think I understand having gone through a similar but less harrowing, experience, that broke my health, and really has damaged my relationships including that with my God. We cannot as humans, use anything outside of the Divine to measure our worth. We are created in His image, and in my faith I believe that He paid the Ultimate price for my eternal security. As far as I can tell, my father paid lip service to his Creator, never placing his trust in Him, prefering to have faith in alcohol, antidepressants, and my mother's piety to make his way in this world and the next. That is the ultimate tragedy to me...As he lay dying, in a isolation ward, of a rabid infection in a body that wouldnt heal, I held his hand and begged God for mercy. Beyond confession, I dont know what became of him on the eternal level, but as I wrote in a post a few weeks ago, his feeling and mine is that when you love someone and dont forget that love, you never truly die..