I was watching a DVD the other night; HBO's 'From The Earth To The Moon', and I realized that I was watching stories about my childhood heroes. Then I realized that is something that has been missing in our society for a couple of generations. I couldn't think of a real individual who I could say was good 'hero' material for a young person for the past couple of decades. I am not talking a celebrity that can be idolized because of the character they play on TV or in films. Or ahtletes who are idolized for their sports abilities. But a real person who can be admired individually for their accomplishments.
I wasn't old enough to remember the Mercury space flights. I do remember the Gemini missions. To this day, I find them heroic in many ways. They were still trying to figure out this whole space flight routine, and how to do things that now aren't even newsworthy today. But in the mid 1960's, it was national news. Two spacecraft making a rendezvous in space was something that had never been done before. The same with actually docking with another spacecraft. It was all being done for the first time, by a small group of men who were dedicated to the task. Risking their lives to accomplish an extraordinary task.
|Launch of Gemini-Titan 3. The 1st manned Gemini mission|
I can remember getting up at five and six in the morning, just to watch the rockets launch. What seemed like such dangerous rockets with the small Gemini capsule on its top were worth watching. Perhaps it was also the fact that the Gemini capsules had a sort of 'face' to them like a friendly mutt dog compared to Apollo's huge Saturn V rocket where you could barely even make out the capsule. Maybe because for a year and a half, it seemed like so much was happening with Gemini that interest didn't wane. Even as a kid, I knew it was very dangerous, and even the splashdown could be a disaster if the capsule sank. Plus the live news feeds of the helicopters flying around and picking up the astronauts made for exciting TV for a 5 year old watching.
|Gemini 7 from Gemini 6...1st rendezvous in space|
To this day; the names Gus Grissom, and Jim Lovell stand head and shoulders above the other heroes of my youth. Because they were real men, doing extraordinary things. My old stingray bicycle was covered in decals from the various Gemini missions that came out of some cereal or other. Yes, I guess as a little kid I was a space geek. But these men were my heroes, and still are today.
Gus Grissom was my hero above all the other astronauts back then. That may be why after his death; along with Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 capsule, I found it difficult to even like the Apollo astronauts, much less admire them. Gus and Ed were gone in a flash, and that left only Jim Lovell, and to a lesser extent Neil Armstrong from my Gemini heroes left. When they went up in Apollo, I still felt a bit of the awe from Gemini, but it was because they were still my heroes, and they still were having amazing adventures in space.
By the time the shuttle had come along, NASA had made space flight seem almost blase. Now it was just a glorified airliner making regular flights. No longer pioneers trying to understand a new frontier, or participating in dramatic discoveries and exploits. They had lost the air of heroism in space flight. Perhaps that is why there was such shock and disbelief when we lost the Challenger and the Columbia. The public had forgotten just how dangerous space flight truly was. That it wasn't as common place, and routine as all the sci-fi movies and TV shows made it out to be.
Those were amazing times which will not likely be seen again. Society has changed, and it no longer seems to be appropriate to admire heroic individuals for doing extraordinary things as a daily job. Risk seems to be something society wants to avoid now. With society so afraid of risk anymore, it seems unlikely that we will have individuals risking everything in the search for knowledge, and discovery of the unknown anytime soon. Today, the heroes of society are no longer the real risk takers. The individuals who lay it all on the line because it is what needs to be done. Even our servicemembers, true heroes are not publicly praised as exhalted for the risks they experience everyday in the line of their duties. As a group, they are somewhat exhalted, but in an unfocussed way. No longer given heroes welcomes and parades down main street in their honor.
Today, society has new heroes; multi-millionaire athletes, and celebrities famous for nothing more than being rich and attractive. People famous for attracting attention to themselves, but not necessarily for achievements of any real note. We have lost our heroes, they have fallen...and it is our fault they have.