Apollo 11

Astronaut on Moon

Let’s look back over our proverbial shoulder to the spring of 1961. Here in the United States, there was an atmosphere of defeat. We were losing the space race with the Soviet Union, which on April 12 had just launched the first person ever into space, Yuri Gagarin. Our country's low morale was intensified by the disastrous and humiliating Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba on the 17th of April.

Just a few weeks later, following extensive investigation into the possibility of success with our own space program, President Kennedy went to Congress on May 25 to deliver a speech. In an attempt to rally national spirits, he boldly proposed that the United States "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Initial public reaction to the idea was somewhat negative. Slowly, though, enthusiasm began to take hold, and America became excited at the prospect of achieving this goal.

So, May 25, 1961 was the beginning. The conclusion is a matter of history. On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon. Tremendous research, experiments, and efforts by scientists and engineers made the unthinkable possible. At that time I was a naive 21 year-old college student, troubled by the war in Vietnam and the recent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. I took in only bits and pieces of the Apollo 11 news but was surrounded by enthusiastic, celebratory people. In the span of eight years, a combination of technology, ingenuity, talent, testing, and billions of dollars had made JFK’s proposal a reality. All of this, without a certainty that it could be accomplished. All of this, propelled by a sense of national vision and commitment. All of this, without benefit of the Internet!

An estimated 530 million people worldwide watched Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. Do you remember where you were that day? It comes back clearly for me, and for most of us, except those of us who weren’t here yet! How do 20-, 30-, or 40-year-olds view this event? In the 50 years since the moon landing, technology has graced us with so many possibilities and conveniences—often at the touch of a smartphone screen—that it can be nearly impossible to grasp what this event was like for adults alive at that time. We discovered pride, wonder, and new heroes. Do people born after this have trouble grasping the phenomenal hero’s journey of Apollo 11?

Books, photos, audio, and video transport us back to earlier realities, bringing a fresh sense of wonder, an immediate taking in and processing of what those earlier times and experiences were like. For many historic explorations, we don’t have access to such rich resources. How would it be to watch Christopher Columbus sail across the Atlantic, or John Wesley Powell head down the Colorado River? We have a small taste of reality with Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. And what about Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic? Photos, newsreels, sound recordings, and realia are available. Yet for the Apollo 11 moon landing, we have easy access to a mind-boggling variety of recorded voices, video clips, photographs, technical data, and well-researched books that can give us a feel for the zeitgeist of that time.

Perhaps the most compelling resource available to us is “Apollo 11,” the documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller, released a few months ago and still in theatres. Arguably, this film may do more than anything else to bring the presence and power of this time period to younger people. Brodart has copies of the DVD, which will release on May 14, on order. Another new release of note is WGBH’s American Experience film, “Chasing the Moon,” set to air on PBS over three nights, beginning July 8., The DVD is scheduled to release the next day. In books, James Donovan’s Shoot for the Moon is in high demand now, as is Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction title Rocket to the Moon! (both published in March, 2019), and the revised edition of a children’s book by Brian Floca, Moonshoot: The Flight of Apollo 11, released in April.

Brodart’s special moon landing book list has several pre-pub titles (print, audio, and video) covering material for all ages in both English and Spanish. Interest in library resources is certain to be high as the 50th anniversary gets closer. In addition, libraries will find many other print and multimedia resources to offer to customers here:
NASA’s portal, One Giant Leap for Mankind, offers biographies, bibliographies, and other resources.
The New Hampshire Space Grant site dedicated to the Apollo Missions links people to NEA and STEM school lesson plans, the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s various resources, offerings from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, NASA audio recordings, and more.
It’s an amazing banquet from which to dine. Brodart staff are available to help you with your needs at 800.474.9816 or [email protected]

This 50th anniversary brings to mind the words of Joseph Campbell, talking about the hero’s journey: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Let us recognize greatness and honor our moon explorers. May their journeys continue to inspire future explorers.