It’s understandable you may have forgotten the details—it’s been 52 years. Most of us weren’t alive then. But 1968 was a most difficult year. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong surprised with the Tet offensive. At home, there were civil rights protests and then riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Democratic National Convention was marred by violent struggle between Chicago police and anti-war protestors. We were in a Cold War space race against the USSR with an uncertain outcome. Then, at Christmas, a year of horrors was saved by a moment of surprising grace.
NASA, struggling to meet President John Kennedy’s promise of a man on the moon within that decade, took a courageous gamble on the Apollo 8 mission. Apollo 7 had been the first crewed orbit of the earth. Encouraged by its success, Apollo 8 was upgraded from an earth orbit mission to the first manned orbit of the moon. It was a daring decision, not without risk, but the mission was a total success. If you were alive then you might recall the “Earthrise” picture taken as our planet emerged from behind the moon. “It was the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life,” astronaut Frank Borman LATER said, “one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me.”
You might also recall the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast showing the moon and an “Earthset,” with the astronauts reading from the Genesis account of the Creation, “In the beginning…,” and their closing Christmas wish, “God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”
Last Saturday the Beautiful Wife called me to the TV to see the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule on their way to the space station. It was the first crewed space launch from the U.S. in almost nine years since the final space shuttle flight. Since then we’ve been hiring rides from Russian. What’s remarkable is the SpaceX Falcon is the product of private enterprise. Elon Musk’s company, trading under the symbol of SpaceX, and Boeing competed to develop a launch system and Musk, arguably our greatest innovator since Thomas Edison, won the contest.
Didn’t you also feel a surge of emotion at the majestic launch of the Falcon 9, and the parting wish from mission control, “God speed, Bob and Doug”? I hadn’t felt that pride in our country for a while. It seemed almost as moving as the first space walk on the moon by Commander Neil Armstrong and former Laguna area resident Buzz Aldrin.
It’s been a tough year, 2020. Our nation is polarized by a political civil war. We’re suffering through a devastating pandemic. Yet watching the perfectly executed SpaceX launch I felt an overwhelming surge of pride in our country. It brought to mind the Apollo 8 mission that saved 1968, and their Christmas blessing, “God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.” There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]
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