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Where are all the heroes?

POSTED: July 22, 2009 4:00 a.m.

I grew up in the era when astronauts were both heroes and celebrities. We knew the names of people like Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Gus Grissom and others.

  

We also knew the names of Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the first two men who stepped on the surface of the moon. Don’t forget Mike Collins, who was orbiting above them in the Apollo 11 module.

  

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years. For my daughter, who is 18, it is something she learned about as a historical event.

  

We watched it all in black and white on a 19-inch G.E. portable TV. I can remember watching the entire thing on Channel 2, which in those days was the NBC affiliate. The coverage was anchored by the late Frank McGee, along with others, including David Brinkley. Those two are now gone.

  

One who is still around is Jay Barbaree, who has covered every manned space mission since the Gemini program. Jay is getting a little old, but I still enjoy seeing him around.

  

The coverage was always sponsored by Gulf Oil and there was a big Gulf logo on the front of the anchor desk. Somewhere, I still have a hardbound book that was published by Gulf with color pictures of the mission to the moon.

  

I can’t tell you who is on the current shuttle flight or what they’re doing, but back then we knew every astronaut. They were regular guests on TV variety shows and were treated to ticket tape parades to celebrate their safe return to Earth.

In 1984, I was asked to engineer a series of radio broadcasts by John Glenn, who had an ill-fated campaign for president. I spent a couple of days with Glenn, who was then a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He was a rather quiet man who didn’t seem to enjoy the whole concept of campaigning. People wanted to meet a real American hero and I really don’t think Sen. Glenn wanted to accommodate them.

  

Nonetheless, I was grateful for a couple of days spent with him and admired him for his accomplishments.

  

We kicked the space program into high gear after President Kennedy announced that one of his goals was to land a man on the moon in the decade of the 1960s. We made it, just six months shy of 1970.

  

But, it seemed that the whole country bought into the idea. Science teachers had close-up pictures of the moon and we learned about this crater-covered area called the Sea of Tranquility. We were told that things like calculators, Styrofoam and Velcro were all products of the space program and if we did well in math and science, we could be involved in things like that.

  

Later, the folks at General Motors helped NASA develop a car that would drive on the dusty surface of the moon.

  

Now, GM is trying to reinvent itself after bankruptcy and NASA is trying to figure out where to go next with the space program. I don’t know that we’ll ever have that kind of national pride and commitment again. After 40 years, I still think of those men as heroes. We should always be proud of them.

  

Harris Blackwood is the author of “When Old Mowers Die.” His e-mail address is harrisblackwood@gmail.com. 

 

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