Why don’t you know about Apollo?

Here’s something that I find hard to understand: why everyone who is my age doesn’t know everything about the Apollo Program.

One of my favorite places to visit around Seattle is the Museum of Flight. And one of my favorite parts of the Museum of Flight is the area dedicated to the Space Program: from the first “Right Stuff” Mercury missions, to the Space Shuttle and the ISS, the museum has some really cool exhibits. Sure, they missed out on getting hold of an actual Space Shuttle, but at least there’s a shittle trainer (mostly made of wood) which can give you a sense of scale of the Orbiter. It’s like a giant tree-house for nerds.

At the moment there is a special Apollo exhibition taking place, prompted by local-boy-made-good Jeff Bezos’ loan of some actual Apollo rocket hardware to put on displaty. Jeff spent a good deal of time and money to bring back some old Saturn V engines the bottom of the Atlantic. And if you know your Apollo, you’ll know that surprisingly little of that gargantuan space hardware ever made it back to Earth (by design).

A flight-spare F1 Apollo Saturn V engine, on display at the Museum of Flight, Seattle.

As I walked around the hall in my NASA t-shirt, I was amazed at the questions coming from grown men, men who should have, in my view, known better.

As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I absorbed all the information I could find about the Space Program. It seemed only natural — it’s an extraordary human endeavor! Who wouldn’t want to learn about the three stage rocket, with in-flight docking procedure to extract the lunar module, followed by lunar orbit, landing, return and recovery? Who would’t want to build Lego spaceships and re-enact the entire adventure time and time again? Who wouldn’t spend hours lovingly redrawing the odd angles and shapes that made up the lunar lander’s ascent stage? Or making percusive roaring sounds and flying Airfix and Revel models from the living room all the way down the hall to the bathroom rug for splash down?

A Lego Saturn V model that I, a grown man, may have bought and built only last week.

I have to admit that watching those amazing, white machines soaring in slow motion into space, decorated with “USA” and Stars and Stripes logos, made me, a boy growing up in Belfast, decide that America was the absolute coolest place in the Universe. It was high-tech with skyscrapers and blue skies and white teeth and had an actual Space Program.

And then, 30 years later, I finally got to come to the US, and live here and work here, and go to museums and see genuine pieces of rocket and rocks and even people (Hello, Buzz!) who had been to the Moon. The Moon!

So imagine my surprise that grown men (and I’m saying men, because the women I saw at the exhibit didn’t ask anything dumb) ask the most fundamental questions about space flight.

“But, you live here! You grew up here! You probably knew who Walter Cronkite was! Home come you aren’t a complete train-spotting nerd-level expert in this stuff?!” I wanted to yell. I just assumed that everyone who was actually lucky enough to be in America growing up at the same time as me would just know this stuff automatically.

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