Column One: 50 years after Apollo 11, the moon’s allure still resonates – by David Shribman (Los Angeles Times – July 11, 2019)

Loudon Wainwright Jr., father and grandfather of songwriters and musicians, was a prominent literary balladeer of 1960s culture, and — just as Americans might tire of 50-year commemorations of humankind’s greatest space adventure — he felt a creeping sense of tedium, almost boredom, at Cape Kennedy as he awaited the launch of Apollo 11.

But the night before the liftoff, Wainwright heard this observation:

“What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man. For the first time, life will leave its planetary cradle, and the ultimate destiny of man will no longer be confined to these familiar continents that we have known so long.”

Those words were spoken by Wernher von Braun, and they jolted Wainwright, stirred him, as he put it in a Life magazine essay, “in ways that no amount of engineering brilliance, astronautical competence, and the cool confidence of the entire Apollo project ever could.’’

Consider what we know now since Armstrong fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to send an American to the moon and return him safely to Earth; that we now know that von Braun, brilliant developer of the Saturn V booster that propelled Apollo 11, almost certainly employed slave labor developing missiles for Hitler’s Nazi Germany; that we now know that since that starry, starry night so long ago, America, which had not given plausible thought in a century to removing a president, has considered impeaching three chief executives and actually did it once; and that the White House that glowed with Kennedy’s shining vision would be shrouded in dark questions about Lyndon B. Johnson’s credibility, Richard Nixon’s culpability and Donald Trump’s mendacity.

For we live in a different world from the one whose surly bonds Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins — the Tinker, Evers and Chance of space travel — escaped in July 1969.

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