Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saluting The Pioneers

It took a little short of 66 years to go from a 12-second, 120-foot, 6.8-miles per hour flight from the Wright Brothers to the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

For TigerBlog's money, mankind hasn't really ever done anything to eclipse that accomplishment.

Think about it. The technology of the 1960s, which was primitive compared to what exists now, allowed three men to blast off in a rocket, travel the 240,000 miles to the moon, land two of the men on the moon, have the third wait for them in an orbiter and then have all three safely return.

Would you have wanted to try that? Would you have had the courage?

The Apollo 11 moon flight came just eight years from the time that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and the first to orbit the Earth. During that time, the United States operated in an almost panic mode caused by two issues - beating the Russians to the moon and fulfilling the late President Kennedy's dream of doing so by the end of the decade.

And so, in mid-July 1969, there was Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, in such a rocket, ready to make good on Kennedy's wish.

And then, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon while Collins orbited in what had to have been the loneliest experience in the history of human existence.

After six hours on the moon, Armstrong opened the door to the lunar module and stepped out, famously saying "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Whether or not he actually said the "a" before "man" is debated, though he insisted he did.

To show how tenuous it all was, NASA had prepped President Nixon for the possibility of disaster, to the point where a speech for Nixon to deliver had already been written in the event of the worst-case scenario.

It wouldn't be necessary, obviously, as the astronauts made it to the moon and back safely.

Neil Armstrong died over the weekend at the age of 82. He never flew in space again after Apollo 11, and he was by all accounts a humble man who just happened to do something extraordinary.

Actually, unrivaled is a better way to put it.

In all, 12 men walked on the moon. Can you name more than Armstrong and Aldrin?

Pete Conrad was the third, and he was a Princeton graduate. TigerBlog didn't realize that Alan Shepard did so as well.

Armstrong was the first, though. TB can't help but wonder what went through his mind in the days leading up to the mission, to the flight to the moon, when he stepped out onto the surface for the first time - and for that matter every time he looked up at the moon after that.

When Armstrong walked on the moon, Princeton University was a few weeks away from admitting its first class of women, a group of 171 female students, including 101 who would be in the Class of 1973.

Amazingly, the trustees vote was only 24-8 in favor of coeducation, rather than 32-0.

TB has seen pictures of the pioneering women athletes who first came to Princeton and wonders what they must have thought as well.

The earliest women's teams were clearly second-class citizens compared to their male counterparts.

Look at the first field hockey schedule, for the 1971 season, which included games against Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) and William Paterson, not to mention the Princeton Ladies' Club. And Douglass College, which at the time was the largest women's college in the country and now is part of the Arts and Sciences school at Rutgers.

The Ivy League would not begin awarding championships for women's sports until 1973-74, and Princeton's first league championships for women would be in basketball. Princeton would not win multiple women's Ivy titles in the same academic year until 1981-82, when it won in field hockey, ice hockey and rowing.

To see those old pictures now is staggering, especially compared to the equality Princeton women's athletes receive now in every way, from scheduling, uniforms, practice times, facilities, athletic medicine, strength and conditioning, athletic communications and everything else.

TB wonders where this level of equality would be had Title IX not become law. He surmises that it would be fairly similar to where it is now, though it probably would have taken considerably longer to get to this point.

Either way, when the women's soccer team starts off the home portion of the athletic year of 2012-13 this coming Friday, it will do so in a facility that the first women's soccer team could never have imagined.

The field hockey team will be playing its games on a field that has been specifically designed for its needs, something that would also have been unthinkable 40 years ago.

As the new year begins, part of TB would want the current women athletes to know who came before them and what they had to put up with.

Another part of TB is glad that they don't have any idea what it was like way back when.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 1969, Congress passed a law which included the provision that "the flag of the United States, and no other flag, shall be implanted or otherwise placed on the surface of the moon, or on the surface of any planet, by members of the crew of any spacecraft. . . [funded by the United States]."

It seems that, for a long long time, the only flags which will be on the moon are the six American flags Apollo astronauts left and the one Princeton flag Pete Conrad put there.