The Exploration Will Be Televised

While we’re all celebrating the 40th anniversary of humanity’s first
trip to another world, I’ve been listening to the “real-time”
broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission at
We Choose the Moon.
Think of it as a multi-day radio broadcast.

Yes, we all know how it turns out, so the brief moments of drama when
something goes wrong, or when Houston talks about possible burn
failures while the spacecraft is behind the moon, aren’t really as
suspenseful as they were forty years ago.

And then, for some reason, this
comment
by Michael Collins caught my ear:

04 03 28 12 CMP
Roger. There will be no television of the undocking. I have all
available windows either full of heads or cameras, and I’m busy with
other things.

Somehow this brought into focus the enormity of what was going on: not
only had a bunch of upright apes shot a tin can further than any tin
can had gone before; not only were people able to traverse a span of
cold emptiness to another world; but they sent back radio and
television transmissions, so that the entire world could watch what
was going on.

This is in marked contrast to earlier explorers like Columbus,
Magellan, Amundsen, and others, who basically disappeared from view
for months or years, then brought all of their stories back in one
package.

And here’s Collins saying, in effect, “Step back from the window,
kids. Daddy’s got work to do.”

Of course, this link to the earth wasn’t just for PR. Listening to the
conversations between the astronauts and Earth, it becomes clear that
the astronauts and spacecraft were simply the apex of a vast support
system that made the trip possible: people figuring out when and how
to burn; what might go wrong, and how to fix it; keeping an eye on the
myriad things that the craft could run out of; and on, and on.

Humans are often defined as the tool-making animals, or the animals
with language. But one thing that’s really worked out for us is
cooperation. And as the festivities this week remind us, it got us off
of this rock, and made an ancient dream into reality.

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