It’s almost impossible to convey the mood of the late sixties—such a mess of politics and war and confusion over whether the Cold War was going our way or not—but for a brief moment, the world was united around a single moment of utter awe…
I was seventeen years old, squatting on the living room carpet in our family’s College Avenue apartment in San Diego. I was already a published writer and a fan and had been working up my expectations for this moment for years—practicing for the occasion by watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” many, many times—and now it was here. The grainy but live video footage from the moon was unprecedented—we truly were living in a science fiction world, but things were turning out as no sf writer had predicted—with hundreds of millions of people watching. The first night on the moon—it would take years to comprehend, but my quick assessment at the time has stuck with me to this day. “For the first time in four billion years of Earth history, living creatures have stepped off the surface of our world and set foot on another.”
Walter Cronkite and Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein provided late-night commentary, the sort of visionary and expert testimony about a world-shaking event that is tough to imagine being broadcast today. Ray Bradbury fled from the Dick Cavett Show green room when he realized he has being upstaged on this night of nights by a pop singer. Emotions were running incredibly high. But for me and my parents and for my high school and college friends, this was an apotheosis. The future was here.
We’ve had many terrific moments since—and quite a few terrible moments. But there was nothing like that one. It was a different time, almost a different civilization. I’d give a lot to start from that point again and see what we could do different, how we could avoid bitter mistakes… But hell, we’re human, we did it, we were magnificent, and we’ll do it again.
This time, better—and for good.