1969 was not an easy year on Americans. The Vietnam War was at its height, with more Americans dying there in 1968 and 1969 than any other year. American streets and campuses were scenes of protest or sit-ins over the war. The South was in rebellion against civil rights. And Richard Nixon had just been elected President.
But on July 20, 1969, two men walked on the Moon, the first of 12 to do so. The Moon landing that July was at least partly a salve for a reeling nation: Americans celebrated, Walter Cronkite acted like a mesmerized boy on national television, cold warriors beat their chests, and Vladimir Nabokov spoke as if of a celestial Lolita: “Treading the soil of the moon, palpating its pebbles, tasting the panic and splendor of the event, feeling in the pit of one’s stomach the separation from terra… these form the most romantic sensation an explorer has ever known… this is the only thing I can say about the matter. .. The utilitarian results do not interest me.”
But there were also words of caution, and even protest: in America and abroad, some people protested the wastefulness of it. “As man gains another world,” a New York Times editorial read, “–with the prospect of adding another and still another, literally ad infinitum — he stands in imminent danger of losing his own. Transfixed by the glowing vision of the stars, he too easily turns from his ugly failures on this earth.” Arthur Koestler, the novelist, wrote: “Coincident with cosmic euphoria, the world is in the grip of a cosmic anxiety. Both derive from the same source: the awareness of unprecedented power operating in an unprecedented spiritual vacuum. Prometheus is reaching out for the stars with an empty grin on his face.”
The Dali Lama wrote that “the most wondrous event would be if man could relinquish all the stains and defilements of the untamed mind and progress toward achieving the real mental peace and satisfaction when he reaches the moon.” And Pablo Picasso, three and a half years before his death, said: “It means nothing to me. I have no opinion about it, and I don’t care.” And Saul Alinsky, the social activist, suggested “the president ought to be among those going. It would be great history.” Alinsky doubted whether it would make a difference if Nixon was in Washington or on the moon.
Some of those memories are being revived, albeit with a peppier, lighter touch, as this year’s edition of Flagler Reads Together marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by focusing on Jeffrey Smith’s “The Eagle Has Landed.”
Flagler Beach’s Mary Ann Clark created Flagler Reads Together in 2002 “to highlight the joy of reading and have the community join together to read a book,” Carl Laundrie president of the Friends of the Library, said. The inaugural book was Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Intervening years have celebrated such titles as Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy,” Jack Klegg’s history of Flagler County (to coincide with Flagler’s centennial), a book on the Appalachian Trail, and last year’s novel on women spies of World War I and II.
Flagler Reads Together this month means free programs about space flight and the historic mission of Apollo 11, starting with today’s talk at the public library by Ralph Treder, a NASA Solar System Ambassador who talked about the challenges NASA faced to put a man on the moon and how they met those challenges.
A second program is planned for 2 pm Friday March 8 with Lee Bentzley also a NASA Ambassador. He will present an animated video of a simulated trip to the moon and a discussion about the contributions of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for a future landing site on the moon.
A third program is entitled “Astronomy for Everyone : Size and Scale of the Universe.” It will be presented 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 18 at the library. Kevin Manning, a well known public speaker and astronomer will present the program.
The series will conclude with an open discussion of the book by Jeffery K. Smith, “The Eagle Has Landed” at 3 p.m. Wednesday March 27. At the Library.
All of the programs are at the Library at 2500 Palm Coast Parkway west and are free and open to the public.