Monday, July 20, 2009

Children of the Space Age

Delhi in the 60s was the only city in India which had television broadcasts and that too for two hours everyday. And we were one of those fortunate families to own a TV. Consequently I recall vividly, grainy black and white pictures of Neil Armstrong and 'Buzz' Aldrin bouncing along on the moon surface with the Eagle in the background, 40 years to this day. It was a moment of great excitement. America was a distant and unknown land at which we looked with awe, at its advanced science and technology, that had managed the unbelievable feat of putting a man on the moon and bringing him safely back.

I can no longer recall when I first decided to do science. However, there is no question in my mind that it was the romance and excitement of the space age, the wonders that science and technology were capable of, that were largely responsible for my decision to make a career in science.

Yuri Gagarin was one of my boyhood heroes. (It didn't hurt that photos of him circulated by the Russian Cultural Centre made him look like a Greek God). Unfamiliar Russian names like Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, the dog Laika were household names in our family. (With animal rights activists far into the future, nobody thought of asking the obvious question - what happened to Laika?) Even my grandfather, a man born towards the closing years of the 19th century, would read me stories about the space faring nations - mainly the USSR, and then gradually the US. Thus, by the time Armstrong walked on the moon, 40 years ago (and fluffed his lines though we didn't know it then), we considered ourselves veterans of the space age. Armstrong and Aldrin's feat merely appeared to be the glorious culmination of an age of technological marvels. Most of us dreamed of being part of this romance of science and of technology, some went into engineering, I took the road to a scientific career.

We, of our generation, are truly children of the space age.

See the full sequence of clips at the New York Times


Sourendu said...

I guess you also recall the earlier Christmas flight of Apollo 8. In addition to the Sputnik, Gagarin, Laika et al, I remember growing up on documentaries about the Gemini and the Mercury flights. In the early flights the astronaut had to be strapped into a tiny bunk. Apollo was roomy compared to that.

On July 21, 1969 my class in school took a break from science to listen to the moon landing in real time. The period got over before the Eagle landed. This was one of the few times when we were unanimous in asking for a longer science class. Needless to say, it didn't work. If it were possible to have a crueller blow against science, I couldn't imagine it then.

Rahul Basu said...

Indeed I remember Apollo 8 and the pictures it sent of the moon. As also the earlier Gemini and Mercury though it's now a bit hazy. For many years I had a big poster in my study of the famous photo of Armstrong reflected on Aldrin's visor, taken on the moon.

Another vivid memory I have is of the plaque (designed, I think by Carl Sagan) sent out into the unknown on Pioneer 10 and 11 in the hope that some alien civilisation would see it. This was in the early 70s I think. It had some transitions of the hydrogen atom etc. and nude images of a man and a woman - something that thrilled us teenagers no end.

More recently, I recall watching the first shuttle lift off and return when I was in Stony Brook. But the earlier magic was missing....

AmOK said...

Enjoyed the post, Sire. In those days one did not ask "Why did the man go to the moon?"

You were young. NASA was about your age. Practically playmates, a younger sibling, your Little NASA.

While you have aged well, I am not so sure about your Little NASA. Perhaps a replacement organisation will reincarnate the earlier magic -- whenever. As for Shuttles. I am sure you rode many of them in Stony Brook.