Friday, December 26, 2008

An unexpected Christmas present

I received a wonderful surprise in the mail today - an autographed and personalized photo of John Glenn! I shouldn't say it was a total surprise, but the timing made for a perfect Christmas present.

After seeing John Glenn at the National Air and Space Museum in November at the lecture for the Apollo 8 crew, and realizing that he was now 87 years old, I thought I had better hurry if I was ever going to get a personalized photo from him. He looked in relatively good health, but at 87, every day is a gift.

Senator Glenn (or "Payload Specialist II Glenn," as they jokingly referred to him at the NASM lecture), is renowned for his generosity in filling every autograph request he gets through the mail. I ordered on eBay a great photo of him being loaded into Friendship 7 on the day of his historic flight. After that photo arrived, I sent the photo, a letter, and a prepaid return envelope to Glenn's suburban Washington DC address. That was the week of Thanksgiving, and I frankly didn't expect a reply for several months.

Today's mail delivery brought my return envelope and the picture, beautifully signed in silver pen and personalized to me with the date of December 22, 2008. It's so incredible that this man still signs autographs - and does it for free. I heard somewhere that even if he wasn't necessary thrilled about signing, he felt it was the least he could do as a representative of the country that he loves and who sent him into space. He is a class act in every respect and a true gentleman.

God bless you, John Glenn, and thanks for a wonderful Christmas present!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to "all of you on the good Earth"

On what was the most memorable Christmas Eve of my lifetime, the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the Moon and sent us back live TV from another world.

All of the horrible events of the year were forgotten for that one moment. If your skies were clear that night, you went outside, looked up at the Moon, and marveled that there were actually people up there, so very far away.

The footage from their TV broadcast looks washed out and blurry to modern eyes, accustomed to the clarity of high-def TV. But in 1968, it was amazing to see the Moon from 60 miles up in the comfort of our living room.

The best Christmas gift of all was hearing that Apollo 8's engine firing had been successful, sending them back home again.

It was an audacious mission, one calculated to give America an insurmountable lead in the propaganda of the Cold Ward. However, the success completely transcended nationalism and politics, actually bringing humanity closer together rather than widening the distance between us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apollo 8 to the Moon!!

Forty years ago today, the first men to leave the Earth's vicinity were launched aboard a Saturn V rocket.

Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders began this historic journey when we needed it most. Were it not for Apollo 8, I have no doubt that 1968 would have gone down in history as one of the worst years for Americans in modern times. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy tore the country apart. There were riots in the streets, and I remember seeing the pillars of smoke rising above Washington DC as many neighborhoods burned. Protests about the Vietnam War and at the Democratic National Convention highlighted how angry Americans were.

Apollo 8 focused our attention on the best that Americans - and mankind - could do. The world took a 6-day time-out and watched three brave men journey a quarter-million miles away from their planet. They saw, as no one had ever seen, how small and fragile our Earth is. And they shared that image with us through their onboard TV camera.

The Christmas season of 1968 will never be forgotten by those who were alive then.