Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An eclipse of air and space

On Monday when the US celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, I paid a short visit to the Air and Space Museum. There I watched some security guards chase two children and their mother out of the Apollo exhibit.

"Can't my kids watch the end of the show?" said the mother.

"No. There's a VIP function tonight. The exhibit must be cleared immediately."

The museum exhibit hall had, without any prior notice, suddenly been declared closed. It seems the young citizens seated in the mini Apollo theater weren't on the guest list for the VIP dinner party.

As the obedient American family filed out of the hall, Kennedy, overhead on a television screen was justifying his dream to Congress: "... none more important to mankind, nor to the exploration of space" he said of the moon program.

The next day, the moon herself would put on a show of her power for most of the world. It would be a total eclipse of the sun, visible from China all the way to India. Poignantly, America would not be invited.

Today in the US the phrase "space program" evokes memories and history lessons. Yesterday's triumph. A great event to be celebrated and then forgotten again. It all reminded me of something I had encountered in my travels. The Old World town where an old man points to a ruined castle and tells you stories about some ancient battle. But you cannot mistake the message: We were great back then. Can't you see we are a great people!!?

I fled the old castle, its space junk, hostile security guards, and catering staff.

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