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Forty-four years ago today

It’s only fitting that The Legal Genealogist is, today, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the sign as you enter the city limits doesn’t mention the mayor or the local sports team or even the local high school.

It recognizes, instead, a scientist.

Apollo_11_first_stepDr. Robert H. Goddard, to be exact. Recognized as the father of modern rocketry.

Goddard was born here in Worcester on 5 October 1882. He went to school here, graduating from Worcester Polytechnic in 1908 and Clark University with a master’s degree in 1910 and a doctorate in 1911.1

And it was here, in Worcester, that he first started writing about the possibility of liquid-fueled rockets. And started thinking about how to actually make rockets.2

Rockets that might, one day, reach the moon.

Like the one that did reach the moon.

Forty-four years ago today.

I was working as a summer intern — a wannabe news reporter — at a newspaper located a building on Maple Street in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in the summer of 1969.

I wasn’t yet old enough to drink, a fact I assiduously concealed from a large number of bartenders that summer, but I was old enough to work the night shift. That shift began at 7:30 p.m. and ran to 2:30 a.m.

And I was working the night shift on Sunday, July 20, 1969.

Everybody on that shift should have been out and about that night. We should have been at police stations and hospitals, at local political watering holes, anywhere outside the office where things were happening.

But for the reporters of the Perth Amboy Evening News, on that hot summer night in 1969, for us and for the rest of the world, there was only one thing happening that we were interested in that night.

Men — American men — had landed on the moon.

And, we’d been told, at least one of them would walk on the moon.

We were lucky enough to work for an editor who understood what that night meant. He left the door to his office unlocked that night. With a black-and-white television where we could all gather around.

I remember that the picture was sometimes fuzzy and it flickered. It was grainy and a far cry from the high resolution imagery we’ve become accustomed to.

And I remember that every last one of us wanted to do nothing more than stare at that screen and its images.

And watch.

And marvel.

And gape.

And dream.

As the hatch to the landing module of Apollo 11 opened and history was made:

On July 20, 1969, the human race accomplished its single greatest technological achievement of all time when a human first set foot on another celestial body.

Six hours after landing at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining), Neil A. Armstrong took the “Small Step” into our greater future when he stepped off the Lunar Module, named “Eagle,” onto the surface of the Moon, from which he could look up and see Earth in the heavens as no one had done before him.

He was shortly joined by “Buzz” Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the lunar surface and returned 46 pounds of lunar rocks. After their historic walks on the Moon, they successfully docked with the Command Module “Columbia,” in which Michael Collins was patiently orbiting the cold but no longer lifeless Moon.3

So much has changed in the 44 years since that July day when men walked on the moon.

The editor whose office we watched the landing in is gone today. The building the newspaper was in was torn down years ago. The newspaper moved out of Perth Amboy to Woodbridge a year or so later. And today the newspaper itself doesn’t exist anymore.

But perhaps the biggest change is the one that hurts the most.

So much of what was accomplished that day owes its success to Dr. Robert H. Goddard. Because he looked forward. Because he dreamed. And what he dreamed was given reality because the heart and soul of the American people, the scientific community and even the government was committed to one thought: we will.

For that, we owe him our thanks.

How very sad it is to contrast that to today’s dismantled space program, public apathy about the wonders of the universe, and the branches of our government caught between “yes we can” and “oh no you don’t.”

And for that, I think, apologies are in order…


Image courtesy of NASA.

  1. Wikipedia (, “Robert H. Goddard,” rev. 19 Jul 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Introduction,” Apollo 11 30th anniversary, NASA History ( : accessed 19 Jul 2013).
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