I was awed and amazed by those pioneering ace high expeditions being undertaken into space by astronauts and cosmonauts. This ‘final frontier’ beckoned to the explorer in me and was a launching pad for my interest in cosmology. Space was on the front page of the papers and I relished reading about it. My childhood stories were coming true.
Gordon Cooper and Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad Junior greatly appreciated the vigil I maintained during their Gemini 5 flight.
They orbited the earth 120 times over eight days in August 1965. Gemini 5 was the first spacecraft with fuelcells, devices that produced electricity from the chemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen. The flight gave high hopes, proving that men could live in a weightless state for the length of a trip to the moon.
Gordon Cooper was the first person to make two orbital space flights. On May 15-16, he circled the earth 22 times in the Mercury program spacecraft, Faith 7. During this flight, he released a 10 pound flashing beacon to test how far away he could see it. He estimated that he could see the light as far away as 17 miles. This experiment provided information for astronauts whose spacecraft carried out rendezvous in space.
Pete Conrad would go on to command the Apollo 12 mission that made the second manned landing on the moon. On November 19, 1969 Conrad and Alan Bean landed in their lunar module, Intrepid, and stayed for 31 hours.
It feels just like it was yesterday following these missions: sitting on the carpet before the terrestrial television set, legs crossed, glued to the flickering black-and-white images, following every detail: the launch, the injection into the lunar trajectory, the descent to the moon’s dusty surface– the men in bulky white spacesuits lowering their feet to a new terra firma. I knew that I had seen something few humans in all history would ever directly experience – the first footprint on a world beyond our own. Then the slow-motion dance- hopping up and down on the lunar surface, skipping, and even driving across the terrain of our nearest neighbour in the sky. Alas I didn’t get to see Pete dance. Since the television camera gave out, there’s virtually no footage of Conrad and Bean on the moon.
Otherwise it was a dream mission. ‘Pete Conrad Has a Fun Trip to the Moon read the headline.” No astronaut enjoyed his flight to the moon as much as Pete did. He was almost like a child on Christmas Day, and his companions had a pretty good time too.
And productive too. Conrad and Bean set up scientific instruments and collected rock and soil samples. They also removed parts from Surveyor III, an unmanned spacecraft that had landed on the moon in April 1967.
The Meaning of Life.
Existentialist thinkers argue that humanity has to resign itself to recognizing that since a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe is beyond our reach, the world must ultimately be seen as absurd. While I believe that the universe is a chance event, I believe that through science we are approaching as night follows day a more satisfying rational explanation for it – although it is an elusive quest, I believe existence is as meaningful as you make it.
The existentialist’s ability to portray the inner world should complement this knowledge rather than compete with it. Subjectively I feel very much like Beckett’s woman up to her neck in it, but objectively I know that death is a necessary event.