It’s a fact: unemployment consists mostly of boredom, at least in this day and age. This is a fact I’ve actually had very little problem in adapting to since 1) I like my own company and 2) I generally have no problem finding SOMETHING to do with myself under such circumstances. There is a degree of routine which you get into regarding dealing with the weekly exigencies of filing for unemployment, storing the notices returned by ODJFS, checking out the weekly job offerings from Monster (presuming there are job offerings and there frequently aren’t) and prodding the headhunters who were supposed to work to find you employment and seem to be finding it for everyone else. If you’re smart, the above routines can be spread out over several days, giving you something to look forward to and something constructive to do on a given day.

Still, that leaves a large portion of unoccupied time to deal with. I can spend only so much time online here and the cats will only tolerate so much attention before they’ve had their fill and decide to go elsewhere, which leaves writing (which I’m rather obviously doing now), watching TV and somehow occupying myself out of doors. Being that it is winter in northeast Ohio, outdoor activities are rather limited. I enjoy writing, but writing requires a creative spark, and too often I would swear that my muse is off carousing somewhere rather than providing me with something resembling impetus. The current TV offerings aren’t that great in prime time and worse through the day, but I do benefit from a considerable DVD and Laserdisc collection to tap into. That said, I was scouting through my DVD collection last week when I lit on an old friend, HBO’s production of From the Earth to the Moon, Tom Hanks’ beautifully executed documentary describing America’s initial ventures into space, focusing on the Apollo program.

Make no mistake, whenever Tom Hanks tackles a project, do not expect half-measures because Tom doesn’t deal in them, and FtEttM is no exception. This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve gone through the miniseries, yet somehow, not only is it still fresh with me but I find that I notice more and more about it, particularly with this revisit:

  • Al Franken in a cameo role as Jerome Weisner, science advisor to President Kennedy, played straight.
  • Frank Borman’s statement about the cause of the Apollo 1 fire: “A failure of imagination.” Jeez, how often has mankind suffered that and how frequently has he failed to notice that failure?
  • 1968 – What a great study in contrast between the multiple tragedies which described that year and the shining light at the end of it: Apollo 8.
  • That said, the utter lack of necessity of a stunning achievement in science being commemorated by reading from a text which has more to do with “stone knives and bearskins” (to borrow from Mr. Spock)
  • Mare Tranquilitatis – Same notation regarding Buzz Aldrin when, after landing on the moon, he decides to signify the event by giving himself Communion and quoting his holy book: “You can do nothing without me.” I must disagree.
  • Is That All There Is? – A wonderful contrast with an all-Navy crew being the second to land on the moon, with less gravitas than “Whoopee!” and the kind of boyish enthusiasm many of us would have felt in the same circumstances.
  • Spider – Enjoying watching the development of the Lunar Module, Tom Kelly’s take on Steve McQueen and the accompanying use of the music to The Great Escape for a little tongue-in-cheek humor. That scene with the one engineer catching an error and reporting it honestly to Kelly was refreshing as well.
  • Galileo Was Right – Training astronauts to be field geologists … what a concept!
  • The Original Wives Club – How easy it would have been to forget about the women who supported these men, or the impact of living in the public goldfish bowl had on them, never mind the second-class role they lived in as a matter of course back then.
  • Le voyage dans la lune – A dual tale of the last mission to the moon juxtaposed with the first, as proposed by French filmmaker George Melies. I always knew that Thomas Edison was a bastard, but the stunt he pulled on Melies in stealing his most famous work only further confirms that fact to me.

I followed the space program as closely as I could back then. That said, Hanks and company surprised me again and again with little touches, details and inside information which Hanks clearly dug for and got. Doing that both entertained and informed me in a single stroke, a rather credible occurrence.

And what I find after finishing the miniseries is that I am thrilled and refreshed at the recounting of that story. I am astonished that we were able to do it with the technology we had at the time and that we did it as quickly as we did back then. It makes me look to the current space program, the problems both technical and political and the seeming lack of focus it suffers. Certainly, there are great achievements, such as the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope (and its pictures which frankly take my breath away!), but the sense of drive and purpose is simply not there. There remains in this 59-year-old frame a vestige of the young teenager who watched those Atlas and Titan and Saturn launch vehicles go up in wonder and who misses that sense of excitement, wishing we could somehow recapture it.

I have to believe there are kids right now who look up at the moon and stars and think to themselves, “I wanna go there!” I hope they get that chance, and I hope to live to see the day we return to the moon and from there plot a course to Mars … and give the little kid in me a chance to stretch his legs again.

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Comment by Loren Miller on January 20, 2010 at 11:39am
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is probably the only one of Heinlein's juveniles that I really haven't dived into whole hog. Why, I'm not sure. My all time fave remains The Star Beast, which I STILL think should be made into a movie. For all the S/F and space opera out there, a story like that really has NOT seen the screen yet, and I think it would be GREAT fun. Interesting though that the first Heinlein I ever read was probably also the hardest one to deal with, certainly for a 10-11 year old boy: Starship Troopers.

Still, the way Heinlein wrote wasn't just engaging; it was plausible, believable, and that's really the mechanism that science-fiction had in getting its foot in my door.
Comment by Howard S. Dunn on January 20, 2010 at 10:59am
Thank you for this. Yes, it is amazing how often human beings suffer due to a 'failure of imagination.'

When I was in the sixth grade, I picked up a library book by the great Robert Heinlein. It was called "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel." It was a 'tween' book - facile in many respects - a fun ride for the most part. It was about a young boy who wins a used spacesuit in a contest and ends up going on an adventure - in space - via an extremely unlikely sequence of events.

Nevertheless - it not only inspired me to read a huge number of SF books that had foundations in empirical plausible technology and speculation, but, more importantly, it nourished the drive for real progress - to explore the world around us - to come face to face with the unexplored.

Also, as an artist, I feel that scale and perspective are invaluable aspects of understanding. If we could all see the earth from space, we might not 'lose our religion', but on the other hand, I think most of us would advance our understanding that, as Heinlein put it, "The earth is too small and fragile a basket for [humanity] to keep all it's eggs in."

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