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a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is July 15, 2020

Mississippi Seen

To the Moon

By Walt Grayson

To the Moon

The moon has always fascinated humans. This is a shot I caught one night while taking photos of the full moon- a jet (no doubt heading to Atlanta) taking off from Jackson just happened to cross in front of my lens. We (as a species) have walked on the moon and now plan to use it as a stepping stone to get us to Mars.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant events in the history of humans on planet Earth. The event? It was in July of 1969, 50 years ago – when, for the first time, humans stepped OFF of planet Earth and took our history onto another world – when Neal Armstrong walked on the Moon.

What’s amazing to me is it had only been 12 years before the moon landing that the space race started, when Russia put Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, into orbit. Sputnik was a tinker toy compared to the voyage to the moon. It circled and beeped for three weeks before its battery went dead. And then after a couple of months, it burned up. But humanity was now in space – and has been ever since.

I was fascinated by all the rocket stuff going on back then. I became the space expert in my third-grade class because I brought in the newspaper clipping for current events the day Russia announced Sputnik. After that Mrs. Alexander let me tell all of the space stories for the rest of the year.

A dozen years is pretty quick to go from “Beep-beep-beep” to “One small step for mankind.” That is an even greater accomplishment than to have gone from the Wright Brothers first flight all the way to modern jetliners in just a little over a decade. Obviously, a lot of groundwork had been laid in aerospace engineering by the time the space age began. But still, the moon landing is a mind-boggling achievement.

But before anyone could walk on the moon they had to have a rocket that would get them there. And to make sure it would fly, the rocket’s engines had to be test fired first. That is where Mississippi got directly involved in the space program. All of the Apollo Moon Mission’s first and second stage rocket engines were first tested at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi.

On the night of the moonwalk 50 years ago I imagine I was doing what the rest of the world was doing if they had a TV and reception – watching Walter Cronkite tell us what he was watching on his monitors live from the moon.

And after Neal Armstrong stepped out of the lander and onto the moon, I figure I wasn’t the only person to step outside and look up at a moon that, even though it looked the same, would never be the same again. It and the rest of the world haven’t been. We became an interplanetary species that night – although we’ve only gone as far as the moon so far.

Charlie Tuna, radio personality in Los Angeles at the time of the moon landing probably seized the moment better than anyone when he told his audience that he needed to review his contract with the radio station. He vaguely remembered that some options wouldn’t kick in until “man walks on the moon.” I plan to steal that joke and modify it slightly when people walk on Mars. And I don’t think it will take another 50 years to get there. As a matter of fact, they are already testing firing the rocket engines that will be used to develop the vehicles that will carry us to Mars at the Stennis Space Center here in Mississippi.

There is an old joke about traveling by airplane that you have to go through Atlanta to get anywhere! Well, you sort of had to go through Mississippi to get to the moon, and now, to get to Mars, too! 

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