For three thousand years the Greek God Apollo was the deity who deflected evil and brought forth light. His sculptural image in a pool in the garden of Louis XIV, the Sun King at Versailles depicts him powerfully, in the soft glow of the morning light, gathering up his reins to ride on his daily journey across the sky bringing light to the world.
‘Imagination is at the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will’*
Apollo has continually changed in our collective imagination to suit the times and needs of those seeking to achieve greatness by using him as a symbol. It is not a surprise that he was selected by Abe Silverstein when they were planning a mission to land men on the moon at N.A.S.A. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to be the symbol of a program that would take men into space. He later said that “I was naming the spacecraft like I’d name my baby”.
As the God of light and music Apollo was beloved by all the gods, who sought to keep him safe. He knew about truth and prophecy, medicine and healing, poetry and the arts and, much much more. He was a well rounded figure, much like the astronauts chosen for the Apollo space program.
The 60’s was the age of those who dared to dream a dream and then went out and made it happen. Apart from the actual space program throughout the 70’s, and into the 80’s, the final frontier of space was conquered constantly during the childhood of my three sons (sounds like a TV show).
They were born between 1968 and 1973 and, during their childhood had a wonderful bevy of sci fi television shows and movies to inspire them. Lost in Space, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to name a few.
Then there was the famous Star Wars trilogy with Luke, Han and Leia facing the forces of evil and proving the power of a force for good. No 1 son has a considerable collection of material relating to his passion for knowledge about all things space and space travel.
We enjoyed revisiting it when we watched the twelve-part television HBO mini series co-produced by Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Brian Grazer and Michael Bostick in 1998.
A drama/documentary From the Earth to the Moon won both an Emmy and Golden Glove Award. Made with wonderful attention to detail, it presents the landmark Apollo expeditions, which began in 1961 and ended in 1972. I find it hard to believe that this series was never shown on Television in Australia.
As part of the generation maturing following the war we were all young when these events were really happening, but like the rest of the world our fledgling family were glued to the radio and television constantly.
We took an active interest in the reports and visuals of the Mercury and Gemini programs, which led to the establishment of the Apollo missions. And, we cheered, along with America, as its new visionary president John F Kennedy on May 25, 1961 declared a national goal of “landing a man on the Moon” by the end of the decade.
He said…’we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’
John F Kennedy came from a background and family that had lived through two world wars and a depression. So much about the hardship of those times were still fresh in the collective family, and social memory.
He also knew that challenging and inspiring creative people with a goal and date was the first and most powerful tool in propelling them forward to use their imagination to invent the future. Watching this series has proven his point, and more.
During the years of the 60’s we all took an active interest in the exploits of American astronauts both in and out of their Apollo modules. I Dream of Jeannie about the astronaut who found a girl genie in a bottle following a splashdown kept everyone laughing and dreaming until it really happened.
Of all the people alive at the time, who would ever be able to forget where they were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on earth to step out from what appeared to be a very flimsy lunar module – LM (‘lem’) onto the dusty moon’s surface, taking that giant leap for mankind.
In Australia we felt the same deep emotion as the American allies we had learned to admire and respect during the years of World War II, when they had spent so much time in our homes and in our hearts.
One extraordinary recreation of events was when the team on the ground were given a box full of totally unrelated objects and odds and ends of clothing copying those on the spacecraft.
They were trying to bring Jim Lovell and his crew home after Apollo 13 had a major malfunction.
They made a square fitting fit a round fitting in record time so they could filter the air and reduce the deadly carbon monoxide fumes threatening the astronauts lives. How they achieved it out of scraps of nothing was truly amazing.
If ever imagination was called upon at every level it was during this mission. Continually the team in space and the guys on the ground were challenged by circumstances no one could have foreseen.
In the end by working in congress and by using both imagination and knowledge the boys were brought home. As Eugene Kranz their flight director believed, ‘it was their finest hour’.
We are today enjoying the advances in technology incidental to the development of rocketry and the experience of manned spaceflight. These include advancing the use of a unique fastening system invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral who imagined Velcro from events following a hunting trip.
Many other industries benefited too, including avionics, computers and advanced telecommunications. Then there was the detailed systematic checklist, devised to ensure the astronaut’s safety after the tragedy of the fire in Apollo 1.
This has been a role model ever since for all such systems that secure the safety of thousands of people traveling.
The Apollo mission sparked interest in many fields of endeavour, including the discipline, art and profession of engineering. It was all about acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge to help design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and invent processes that in the end safely realize a solution that suit the needs of society.
But, in the end, it would not have happened without imagination.
The astronauts have been a study for psychologists about how humans cope with stress. The three-man team of Apollo 12 Charles (Pete) Conrad Commander, Dick Gordon Command Module Pilot and Alan Bean, Lunar Module Pilot drove matching Chevrolet corvettes and were renowned for their wisecracking routine.
They were however able to apply themselves completely when required and lived through a serious incident when the Saturn rocket they were riding into space was hit by lightening. Astronaut Eugene Cernan was the last man to set foot on the moon as part of the Apollo program. He said
“We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth”.
The Apollo program could not have been achieved without those who imagined it simply because it had never been done before. Importantly it has left physical facilities and the many machines developed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums for future generations to learn from, and improve upon.
When he won the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics in 1921 German born American scientist Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) said, ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning… curiosity has its own reason for existing… ‘Imagination - it is more important than knowledge…which is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand’.
Carolyn McDowall The Culture Concept Circle, 2010 – 2016
*Ardent socialist and playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) lived a life of literary criticism with a lightness of touch that made stark realities palatable.