In my travels abroad, if I mentioned I was from Texas, I’d invariably get the same responses as people excitedly offered the cultural references they’d picked up here and there about the Lone Star State. Pump jacks. Longhorns. Tumbleweeds.
My personal favorite was from a friendly Scandinavian — “Bang, bang J.R.,” a reference to the TV series “Dallas” and the mystery about who shot villainous oil baron J.R. Ewing.
But when I think of Texas, I think about brave pioneers, explorers and space.
I grew up in “Space City” and the home of the Houston Astros, and couldn’t help but proudly point out to those fellow travelers all of the accomplishment’s of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
It’s impossible to overstate what Johnson Space Center has meant to Houston and, more profoundly, the Clear Lake area and Galveston County and what coastal Texans have contributed to space exploration.
Astronauts and the thousands of people who work at NASA, or for contractors, are our neighbors.
July 20 marks the 50-year anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the moon. Michael Collins, considered the “forgotten astronaut” stayed in orbit around the moon, while Armstrong and Aldrin made the first crewed landing. Collins, command module pilot, waited in the mothership while his fellow astronauts spent more than 21 hours on the lunar surface.
His mission was to rendezvous with them later, and he was left alone to worry.
“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life,” Collins wrote in “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey.” “I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be 3 billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
The space program has brought us many triumphs and tragedies, and as we mark the 50th anniversary and prepare to return to the moon, we should, above all else, stop and remember the courage the astronauts exhibited and the profound sense of hope, possibilities and pride they gave a nation.
This issue is dedicated to astronauts, their families and the many thousands of people who continue to help us explore space.