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Space exploration ignites the imagination

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I was 8-years-old when Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins went to the moon in Apollo 11. I can still see me and my brother, Alan, then not yet 6, sitting on the red-carpeted floor of the living room in our Bronx apartment watching television and seeing the majestic Saturn V rocket break free from the launch pad and head into space.

Those were the days that if something happened during the day, and I was most likely at day camp on July 16, 1969, you either saw it happen or had to wait for the local news program at 6 p.m. or the national news at 6:30 p.m. There were no news alerts, no videos and certainly no social media platforms. When I watched Aldrin and Armstrong walk on the moon, it was a Sunday and we watched as did many Americans, together, in our homes.

It was a moment of immense pride in what the nation could accomplish. Less than seven years earlier, President John F. Kennedy made a speech, ironically in Texas, where he laid down the deadline of before the decade was over American astronauts would be on the moon. Kennedy was assassinated 14 months later in Dallas, but his dream did not die.

I was too young to have heard those words when originally uttered, but Kennedy’s famous line, “We choose to go to moon,” was played over and over like a mantra. It was not a matter of if, it was a matter of yes, we would do it.

From the time I began reading, the country’s space program sparked an interest in me that propelled me to read a series of books produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known as NASA, to explain the evolution of rocketry.

For the next several years, it was those flight countdowns, visits to the lunar surface and splashdowns that had me building plastic model versions of the unmanned Vanguard rockets and the manned Mercury, Gemini and Apollo rockets, which were sent into space, along with the lunar module that landed on the moon, and was built on Long Island by Bethpage-based Grumman.

Some of the models became school science fair projects. Me and a few friends built rockets ordered from a company called Century that actually could be ignited and sent skyward. It was like we were our own NASA engineers. The space program as seen on television, the model rockets I built and the ones friends and I flew into orbit, fired our imaginations and creativity.

The years have flown by and I am not a NASA engineer or an astronaut. But in some fashion I use the excitement of that time and my youthful interest in space to explain to my children that inspiration and passion for a hobby or a career could come from anywhere.

Whether watching national TV newsman Walter Cronkite report on the original moon landing and subsequent lunar visits, using a cassette recorder to create an audio presentation or building a model rocket, I have told my kids that you will find that something you did when you were younger most likely will connect with what you choose to do as an adult. A piece of sage observance I gleaned from a colleague at my first journalism job.

Having to produce a written article nearly every day, generate story ideas and take photographs, I am sure that the small measure of creativity I possess to do those things could be traced to the time I watched Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins soar into space and saw Aldrin and Armstrong land on the moon.