To understand what the moon landing meant to me, you’d have to go back to a dark night in 1957 when I crouched in my attic room with my ear pressed hard against a huge old console radio. The volume was turned down as low as it would go, because I was supposed to be asleep. I was listening to news reports about Sputnik, which had just been launched by the Soviet Union. The Cold War was raging, and though I was not quite seven years old, I understood that the Soviets had just seized the ultimate military high ground.
Nobody followed the space program closer than I did. My father was an engineer for General Electric’s aerospace division, so I had a better idea of the realities than most. Thus when, less than twelve years later, using laughably primitive technology, two men landed on the Moon, I stayed up late to watch those grainy miraculous pictures on television, even though I had to get up at five in the morning to work in a factory to help pay for college. What moved me most was the plaque on the lander, reading, “WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.” It was signed by Richard Nixon and a cynic would say that it was empty political rhetoric. Yet, astonishingly, forty years later, it appears that every word of it was true.
Michael Swanwick is an American science fiction and fantasy author and essayist. He has received the Hugo, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards for his work.