Forty years ago, I was crawling around in diapers when Neil Armstrong planted his flesh-and-blood foot on the moon. The MOON!
Well, I missed the whole thing. The historical significance of the event was beyond my comprehension. Consequently, the iconic image of the earth rising over the dusty moonscape never struck me as unusual or bizarre. Years later, when I was in my teens, fiction writer James Michener opened my eyes to the marvel of it all, the risks, and the fact that until they landed, the crew of Apollo 11 half-expected to sink into six feet of powdery dust.
In this Sunday's New York Times, Tom Wolfe argues that since the first landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, NASA has sunk itself into a metaphorical pit with no vision for the future.
“NASA never understood the need for a philosopher corps,” Wolfe writes. With all of its smarts, the American space program lacks a poet, someone able to spark enough general enthusiasm for building a bridge to the stars.
Such a philosopher would find his work cut out for him. My generation is hard to impress. When was the last time you were truly floored by a scientific discovery or piece of technology? We expect daily, small-scale marvels. Turn on the news. There they are.
The last time I felt fullblown wonder at a scientific advance was in 1992. I was sitting in front of a computer, and my husband was explaining the Internet terms “gopher,” “archie” and “veronica.” He punched the return key. A tiny green star whirled on the black screen.
“Your computer is making another computer in Denmark look something up,” he said. I hardly believed him. Then text appeared, in Danish, pre-Google, like primitive paintings on the cave walls near Lascaux, France.
New Yorker writer Alex Ross argues that the Internet is The Best Thing Ever for classical music lovers. You have, at this moment, immediate access to some of Western culture's most iconic musical figures. Richard Strauss. Leonard Bernstein. Arnold Schoenberg. John Cage's 4'33. The choir of Westminster Abby singing Tavener's Song for Athene at Princess Diana's funeral.
With such a resource, it was pretty simple to whip up a morning of lunar-inspired classical music for you on the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's small step.
Long before people walked on the moon, composers looked up to dream.