By James Bernstein
It takes lots of elbow grease to wipe away all the hype, scandal and five-alarm headlines about Britain’s royal family, and finally hit the spots that shine. One such spot came through three weeks ago, and it was all about recalling the exploration of space and, now, saving the Earth, as only the Crown can do it.
In royal style, Prince William and his wife, Catherine, the Princess of Wales, arrived in Boston on Nov. 29 to focus attention on something called the Earthshot Prize, which was first awarded last year in London. The prizes — $1.2 million U.S. — go to the winners in each of five categories for their efforts to save the environment, which include protecting and restoring nature, improving air quality, reviving the oceans, reducing waste and fighting climate change.
The prince and princess chose Boston to announce the Earthshot Prize winners because, Kensington Palace said, it was the birthplace of the late President John F. Kennedy, who is widely credited with getting America off its butt and into the race to land the first man on the moon.
In a speech on Sept. 12, 1962, at Rice University in Texas, Kennedy electrified the crowd when he asked Americans to support the Apollo program. His New England accent rang out like a bell in the huge Rice stadium: “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.” The crowd roared.
“That goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” Kennedy added, “because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Kennedy was under a great deal of pressure to win the race to the moon. In 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, completing one orbit of Earth. At that point the Soviets were not just hot on our heels, but pulled ahead of us.
Kennedy would not live to see his space dream come true, but we were the first to land humans on the moon on July 20, 1969. The royals remembered that event with a visit to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum in Boston, accompanied by the late president’s daughter, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.
The U.S., and much of the space world, recently celebrated the successful splashdown of NASA’s Artemis 1, which took place in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11, after the Orion spacecraft spent nearly a month in space. The Artemis program is America’s path to return to the moon and, eventually, to Mars.
The uncrewed Artemis 1 tested the safety of the powerful rocket that launched it and the heat shield that will eventually protect a crew. Looking ahead, in 2024, four astronauts will be aboard Orion on a 10-day mission, completing a lunar fly-by. In 2025, if all goes according to plan, the next man, and a woman, will step onto the surface of the moon. They are to remain on the moon for about a week.
The Mars mission will come after that.
If these are exciting times in space — celebrated by none other than the royal couple — they are also times to look back. It was 54 years ago this week that Apollo 8, carrying astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders, became the first spacecraft to reach and orbit the moon.
On Christmas Eve, as the crew captured the first stunning images of an “Earthrise” over the moon’s horizon, Anders was first to begin reading from a copy of a Bible the crew had brought along. Each astronaut read a portion of the book of Genesis.
As scores of millions of people on Earth watched and listened live, Anders intoned, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. … And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.”
Nineteen sixty-eight was an impossibly difficult year. The war in Vietnam was raging. JFK’s younger brother Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. American cities were in flames. But for one moment, the world paused in awe, listening to three astronauts reading about peace and creation.
All these years later, we can thank the prince and princess for honoring our efforts in space in their own unique way, and helping to keep alive Kennedy’s dream of always moving forward.
James Bernstein is editor of the Long Beach Herald. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org.