As kids we sat breathlessly in our classrooms as the launch of Project Mercury capsules, then Gemini and finally Apollo, were carried on the school public address system (by placing the microphone next to the speaker of the radio tuned to the launch). Sister Immaculata, the principal, was a fervent space program supporter and had no problem integrating Alan Shepard and The Good Shepherd into the same lesson plan. She was ahead of her time and would probably be burned at the stake as a witch now. But she was right--it turned out rocket science really was rocket science-and quite heady stuff.
It was years later and I can still recall sitting on the top stair that led to the second level of our parents' summer house listening to the TV as Mom and Dad sat downstairs in the living room watching the first moon walk. We walked on the moon, you be polite. But we weren't, not really; we were boisterous, exuberant, confident bordering on cocky even as the Russians, who'd startled us with Sputnik into racing to the stars, failed to ever even reach the moon. We were not to be denied.
And then followed the years, perhaps more like decades, when I didn't realize we had a space mission until I'd see the TV news or read a press report on a landing. I'd wonder what had happened to our modern love affair with faraway places and heroic efforts and then was captured again by workaday and thought no more about it. We still had so much passion, but romance was out of fashion and space missions, even those that were star-crossed and ill-fated, ceased to set our hearts racing anymore.
Our children have Tetris and Game Boy and 3-D devices that help appease and assuage the vast indifference of heaven though it can never match our own. And yesterday we hung a Gone Fission sign on the cherry picker at the launch site in Florida and told all who follow us to limber up those thumbs and read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because that's as close we chose to dream. We had the moon and more in our grasp, but then we blinked and when we looked again, it was gone. The moon's a harsh mistress; she's hard to call your own. And now we never shall.