Monday, July 22, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed

"Oculus Gazer II" by Rik Allen (look closely
to enjoy the beach chairs!)  
I've never been enthralled with the concept of space.  Call it a lack of imagination, but I'm perfectly happy here on Earth.  But when I had the chance to experience the Apollo 11 moon landing via Virtual Reality, I jumped on board.  It was a surprisingly emotional experience.

My moon walk took place at Imagine Museum in St. Pete.  The tech guy strapped me into my VR googles and left me to enjoy the ride. Within moments, I was approaching the pockmarked moon. Watching the moon edge ever nearer had a significantly greater impact than merely looking at pictures. It was so beautiful that tears came to my eyes. (I am serious.)

We jumped back in time, and I was in the cockpit with Neil and Buzz. I was so busy looking out the window that it took me a few moments to realize I had companions. Hello, guys!  My fellow astronauts were bouncing around a bit as we exited the Earth's atmosphere.  Soon a pen was floating in front of me. I was tempted to take off my goggles -- my seat belt equivalent -- and see if I was likewise weightless.

"Aliens" by Martin Janecky
Then we went back even further to the launch itself. I held my breath during the countdown, hoping all would go well. I could feel my heart rate quicken. The tech told me I had audibly gasped during the blast off. Yes, it was that intense.

Before I knew it, it was time for the lunar module to detach and land on the moon. Again, I felt quite nervous despite knowing all would go well. The module seemed so tiny and fragile in the midst of all that emptiness. Then I heard the words that would become part of the American vernacular, "The Eagle has landed."

Soon Neil had jumped off the module onto the grainy sand-like surface of the moon. Through his audio, the entire world could hear him say, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."  (There's some dispute as to whether Neil included the word "a" before "man." A possible slip of tongue seems quite a small thing to criticize given the physical and emotional stress he'd endured and the enormity of the event. And it's not like he suddenly started talking about something crazy like airports on the moon.)

By Imagine Museum benefactor Trish Duggan
Then the guys were on the phone with Nixon.  His words struck the perfect balance between congratulating the men for their bravery and hard work while lauding the significance of the event.  "...As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth," the President said. "For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people of this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth."

I was visibly emotional when the experience came to an end. Perhaps it was the sense that our country was truly united on that day that did me in. We are living in a time when such unity is hard to fathom, even for a few moments.
"Dancing Cells" by Eric Hilton and James Allen
In case you're not familiar with the venue, Imagine Museum boasts a collection of over 1500 pieces of contemporary glass art, with more than 500 works on display at any given time.  I enjoyed discovering the works that tied in with the moon landing, especially the somewhat creepy--but engaging--aliens by Martin Janecky.  (I texted a picture of one of his works to a friend. She reported being happy to finally have a legit reason to use the alien emoji.)

Only "Dancing Cells" by Eric Hilton and James Allen requires an explanation as to its connection to the moon landing. As you stood before the work, the colors continually morphed into new patterns. According to a docent, the algorithm integrated into the work is such that no pattern will ever be repeated. (Click here to see a video of the piece in action.) The software behind the work was created by James Allen.  Allen's resume also includes writing software for NASA to aid in the analysis of moon rocks and to configure the International Space Station.

To read more about the VR programs available at Imagine Museum, click here. And to learn more about the museum more generally, click here.  The incredibly stunning Karen LaMonte: Floating Worlds exhibit, which I wrote about previously, continues to be on display through the end of the year. It is truly out of this world.

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