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Rocket launches and attention spans got shorter in 50 years

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Falcon Heavy launch: The crowd cheers at Playalinda Beach in the Canaveral National Seashore, just north of the Kennedy Space Center, during the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

APTOPIX Space SpaceX New Rocket

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had been plucked from the ocean and quarantined before they got to see video footage of their historic moon landing from the Earth’s perspective.

“Hey,” Aldrin joked during the video, “we missed the whole thing.”

My family and a good portion of the world population had watched them take their first steps on the moon in real time. Our ability to do that was a big part of the wonderment and fascination.

On Tuesday, SpaceX, a private aerospace manufacturer, launched a red sports car into orbit from atop the world’s most powerful rocket. Even more astounding was how two of the booster rockets seemed to have a reverse gear, allowing them to land back on the ground at precisely the same time. Wow!

And from my earthly perspective, today’s teenagers are only slightly impressed. I blame smartphones, video games, and superhero movies.

I’m afraid those things also affected my own level of excitement prior to the historic event.

I knew the launch was happening, but I was at work and elected to watch it after the fact — on my smartphone. At the supper table that evening, I asked my three teenage daughters if they had watched the launch during school.

“What launch?” the twins said in tighter unison than those booster-rocket landings.

“The Falcon Heavy!” I said to blank faces. “The world’s most powerful rocket! They put an electric sports car into orbit with a dummy astronaut at the wheel. Are you telling me they didn’t stop everything and let you kids watch that glorious achievement on the TVs at school?”

“We don’t have TVs at school,” Noel said. “We have SMART Boards.”

Of course they do.

I pulled up the video on my phone and started it at the three-minute mark in the countdown. At half a minute in I was losing them, so I ran it on up to T-minus 20 seconds.

The massive rocket blasted off from the same Florida launch pad used by NASA in the Apollo missions. I was not quite eight years old when we watched the Apollo 11 liftoff.

Aunt Mary, Uncle Ed, and cousins Mike and Wayne came over from Bluff City to watch the historic Moon landing on our color TV.

That part was pretty much all black-and-white, but at least there were color shots of the white shirts and skinny ties at Mission Control in Houston. And it was in living color each time CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite nervously removed his glasses.

The young man and woman providing the SpaceX play-by-play had a party atmosphere as a backdrop. Not the bureaucratic method NASA used for its missions.

The female providing the Falcon Heavy launch countdown was so excited she lost her place around T-minus six seconds.

I’m thinking that SpaceX’s mission control will have a more somber mood when real astronauts are aboard. But that Falcon Heavy launch was super cool and awe-inspiring. And there’s a cherry red Tesla floating around up there playing a David Bowie song nonstop. How far out is that?!

OK, it’s not the first electric car in space. That would be the battery-powered 1971 lunar rover. Someone commenting on the Falcon Heavy story described the rover as having a “designed-by-committee” look.

Fair enough. But that Tesla has a long way to fly before it sells as many model kits. And it looks as if all the kids who will buy them are in their 30s.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.