A week after I watched his documentary, The Last Man on the Moon, and days after I saw the film, Hidden Figures, astronaut Gene Cernan died.
I’m having a hard time expressing the nostalgia, sadness, longing–the hiraeth I wrote about a year ago here–that I feel when I think about the space program the way it used to be. The world the way it used to be. Lost places of our past.
Now, let me give you the caveat. Those mid-century days weren’t so nice for many, especially minorities. I still shudder in horror that southern law enforcement set snarling dogs and water hoses on people. But I can only speak from my own experience: female, white, daughter of first-generation Americans. So that’s what I’ll do.
The space program was a big deal when I was a kid. A really big deal. The idea that we could send a man to the moon? It was fantastical! It was exciting! We could watch it as it happened on our TVs! We looked on every launch with wide-eyed wonder. Who didn’t know the countdown of “T minus 30 seconds and counting…”
Kids were excited about this stuff. It was thrilling.
But kids are no longer the wide-eyed innocents of my childhood. Kids today are jaded.
When was the last time you saw an eight-year-old child’s eyes widen with wonder? Do they even know about –and get excited about–missions to Mars or the space station any of the exploration we do? I just don’t see it. What I see is a “yeah, so what,” then earbuds in ears and eyes on their phones.
What we’ve lost
I think we’ve lost something big, something important in this new world of ours. Kids, and we adults, may be far more technologically savvy, but we’ve lost the excitement that came with reaching for the stars. With the idea of exploring the great unknown …. out there, not in our phones. We’ve lost the concept of possibility.
So when I watched old footage of the space program in the Cernan documentary it made me deeply sad and so nostalgic, so much so that I cried. I yearn for those days of innocence. I yearn for that world that fostered a desire to achieve things that went beyond getting rich. That world in which achievement meant something to the nation and to the individual. A time when people felt pride in bootstrapping–people like my father, a doctor, who was willing to work hard to overcome being raised by illiterate parents with siblings that didn’t go beyond the eighth grade. When little boys (and girls) wanted to grow up to be astronauts, not make violent video games.
It’s one of the reasons I cried through Hidden Figures, too. It’s not the only reason, obviously. But the film brought up that longing, my yearning for that lost world, just as the documentary did.
More than anything else, the space program, now diminished from what it once was, and all it represented, were a major part of my growing up. To me it and how we all felt about it represents all we have lost in this new world of ours.
Maybe now, at 65, I long to go back to more innocent times. Maybe I long to be a child again. I know that I wish I could do all those years over, not to change anything, but to enjoy that feeling of wonder we no longer see here in the 21st century. It’s a yearning that never leaves me.
In a past life regression a few months ago, I stood in the afterlife at the top of the stairs back down to earth, not wanting to come back, crying. My late father stood off to the side watching, and then observed, “It’s hard to be human, isn’t it, Carol.”
Yes, it is.
“Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.” ~Capt. Gene Cernan, RIP
I agree with you that there is no going back. We have lifted off this planet as we once knew it and there is no re-entry.I am nostalgic for that, too, Carol. Being a similar age, I know exactly how you feel about the finger-tingling of hope and the thrill of defeating the odds in our lives toward success–the will to climb, the determination in the process. I don’t see that any more either.I just see a lot of hands out.
The end of an era for space exploration, but hopefully not forever. My son is fascinated with Star Wars and his eyes widen in wonder with each new encounter. Perhaps this will be inspiration for the next generation of space explorers.
I hope that happens, Shari.
I dream of the ‘wide-eyed wonder’ days. But you are right. They weren’t all wonderful. I dream only of the good things from those days. The things that carried us forward as a civilization.
Let us keep those.
And please, let us not return to what we were finally leaving behind.
I find it heart-wrenching that we seem to be doing the opposite.
So do I. And it must hit you especially hard given your idyllic childhood on the ranch.
I too agree with you, we have become so tech-savvy that life is like No big deal. We have lost the little gestures, affection, laugh, and life. But realization is good and we have to teach our kids about the value of the those simple things that matters a lot.
Yes, those little gestures!
I was holding my newborn son as I heard, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Now, I feel like we are in the twilight zone. Who can predict the future anymore?
I wonder if our parents felt the same way at our age.
I think about all the things that my grandchildren will never do and it makes me so sad. Pen Pals, paper dolls, riding bikes all over town. Kids live to0 much of life vicariously through their smartphones. I intend to bring some of this stuff back. Camping out under the stars, playing in the dirt, I want to teach them to be curious about life. To have the keys to find the answers themselves instead of just googling it! That’s my hope anyway!
Yes. It’s a vicarious life. And good for you, bringing it back, Rena!
You wrote it beautifully. Loved the post.
It is a bummer that kids won’t experience what we did. I am glad my daughter can still play outside for hours on end at least. We live in a safe neighborhood so she’s able to get off her iPad and explore.
Space will always be the final frontier. Maybe we’ll have to go out there soon than we think. I miss the space program too. I loved the heroes. They were so cool.
I hope when I raise kids I help them to put the technology down. My fiance has trouble doing this. I love not being connected though so any chance I get I’m away from the phone, computer, tv.
I think nostalgia should be relished as a unique feeling, and then released, because we all have stars in our eyes, it’s just for different things. When I want to see kids get stars in their eyes I take them to meet one of their personal heroes, or I have them write a personal bucket list and then tell me their dreams. Some of them are bigger than walking on the moon! Dream big! xoxo Robin
The world has definitely undergone some deep changes, many of which are not for the better. However, I’d like to point out that the sense of wonder you wrote about isn’t GONE, it’s just CHANGED. My kids’s eyes widen with wonder all the time – we see wonder in the working of a bee or the struggle of a butterfly, the changing of the leaves on the trees. But we see it, too, in the miracle of the technology that allows you to post here, and allows me to leave this comment. Our paths might never have crossed if not for the inwardness of our technological dependence.
Yes, this is so true. We have so much microwaved that we dont enjoy the cooking process.
I agree you’d think with all the fancy tech we have now we would reach for the stars even higher but the case is some tech stuff just makes us less motivated and ignorant.
I admit to old school thinking and my kids have learned a lot about life from me. I have been “filling in the gaps” per se through their school years and I can honestly say, my kids get wide-eyed when thinking of space and exploration. We were able to get to the moon and back with technology less advanced than a current smartphone. My youngest son is on the fence between being an astronaut or a paleontologist; has been for the last three years and he is 7 1/2 yrs old.
I really agree with you, kids and maybe people today are more interested on what happens in the “virtual” word rather than in the real one. but I also believe that a balance can be reached and that it’s the parent’s job to find it for their children by teaching them that there’s nice things out there.
I was once told that the more technology advances- the higher the suicide rates are. It is a chilling thought but we have to stop and wonder- does technology bring us together or tear us apart?
this article is too deep! but it is very interesting! being an individual human being has a responsibility on this earth. We don’t know, technology this day may harm us or may help us!
I lived in Orlando during the height of the Apollo program and was privileged enough to watch the launches. To that ten year old boy, it was the source of many day dreams. Maybe someday we’ll be able to go back.
Children in our family were only allowed to use cellphones and tablets whenever they have homework. They were given allotted time for games and to explore. They spend most of their free time on educational indoor and outdoor games.
Like you, I miss feeling–and seeing–that sense of wonder the space program engendered. We really did grow up in a much more innocent, open-hearted and wide-eyed–a cynic might say naive–times. And I think we all felt more hopeful about the future as a result. Today, though, I think medicine is an exciting new frontier with the potential for truly life-changing discoveries (if it doesn’t get too tainted by the profit motive). Ah, there’s that cynicism…Yours is a thoughtful and poignant post, Carol.
What a beautiful post. I do miss the innocence of the age of wonder. We spent several years in Florida before the space program changed so drastically, and we were lucky enough to see the final launch. It was bittersweet.
It would be nice to be able to bring back the magic of mystery.It sounds like a good documentary to watch and it’s definitely going to allow you to reflect on the things that have changed ever since then. I feel the same about the kids today.
What a neat documentary, you have peaked my interest. Although, I enjoy moving with the way the world is changing, I can see why people would often want to go back. My childhood is definitely much different than kids today, but it has always been that way. Kids in the next generation will again have a total different life.
I certainly identify with the kind of yearning you’re talking about. Though it may not be a yearning for the same specifics of the past, I understand that feeling wanting to go back.
This is one of the reasons I am a firm believer in no screen time for babies before 2 and then VERY limited after that. I want my child to have that wonderment in nature, in space, and anything else that he might like.
Oh yes it is hard! I experienced yearning like that as well. I hope my kid will be not spending his whole life on staring into Ipad, computers etc
It really is crazy how addicted to technology kids are! My daughter is 4 and I have to force her to play with toys and to stop begging for the tablet most days -_-
I’ve always said that we lost a lot when we become a nation of gadget using people. Gone were the days when kids would think staying outside when it’s pouring buckets of rain fun and the highlight of their days. We used to do that and it’s sad that most kids nowadays don’t do it anymore.
I stand by you on how technology has taken out so many things from us, human life becoming a cheapest thing and a simple way of expressing support to other human being becoming a formality these days! At the end of the day we need to take the positives & teach our kids the same!