Thursday, July 20, 2006

celestial outreach

Thirty-seven years ago, a bit more than a month before I was born, three intrepid mammals willingly piled themselves into a tiny tin can that sat on an enormous stack of explosives. With absolute-- and perhaps unjustifiable-- faith in the socially retarded "smart" mammals who insisted nothing would go wrong, these three little beings impatiently counted down the seconds until a controlled deflagration would fling their tin can out of the protective envelope of earth's atmosphere and send them scooting a distance of a bit more than one light-second to the moon.

Three days after that crucial explosion, the socially retarded mammals were proved right in their calculations; the tin can had worked beautifully, and a sapient primate wrapped in protective gear gleefully set foot on a barren world that is, some theorize, less a moon than the earth's midget twin. That primate, Neil Armstrong, then uttered a line whose content has been debated ever since:

"That's one small step for [a] man... one giant leap for mankind."

The line only makes sense if we include the indefinite article, but the audio recording doesn't make it obvious that the primate uttered it. In his excitement, he might or might not have omitted that crucial phoneme. Keep in mind that this was the grass-puffing late 60s; it's a miracle that anyone was clear-headed enough to invent a tin can that could hit the moon, let alone create audio technology that could pick up a crucial syllable.

In the end, it matters little what the primate actually screeched. The fact remains that humans did set foot on the moon-- an astral body with no aliens and no calendar of its own. And so, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to its midget twin, the denizens of the earth have said that this event, where we made first contact with a familiar-yet-alien world, happened 1969 years after the death of a celebrated ancient primate, on a date referred to as "July 20th."

And like all primates, we still find ourselves looking toward the unknown with curiosity in our minds and a sense of adventure in our hearts.


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