THE MOON, which has sulked behind a heavy corner of clouds quite a bit lately, finally rose the other night. As late summer moons often do, it hung heavy and red just above the horizon. But, since the days of the good, impressionistic sentence are over, it is difficult to assign any particular emotion to the event. For, in a very real sense, the particular sphere in question has become just another suburb, and like Wellesley or Westchester or Chevy Chase, it is there, separated from us only by the difficulties of transportation.
Despite the excitement of the past weekend one can only fear that the successful flight of Apollo 11 has dealt a final blow to the Romantic spirit. (To say nothing of Greek mythology, which has succumbed to the ascendency of the number.) Gone forever are the days of the Byronic hero--Houston's psychological testing batteries have seen to that. In any case, it is difficult to imagine a sanctimonious Richard Nixon welcoming home an explorer in the tradition of Sir Francis Drake.
Even the actual flight has its deflating aspects. Interest in the current moon shot developed slowly. After all, ten Apollos preceded this week's try: if Columbus had made a half dozen preliminary Atlantic crossing before finally deciding top get off the boat, the Situation would have been somewhat analogous.
THEN, THERE was also the phenomenon--surely not considered by the Houston crews and the television networks--that in most respects imagination has already pre-empted actuality. The first live views of the moon looked suspiciously like the bits of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 that ended up on the cutting room floor. So, for most of the Huck Finns of this generation, it was quite easy to say "We've been there before."
The most telling indictments, though, are sure to come in future years. It is dubious that Americans will be able to maintain any real interest in the space program. That is not to say of course that they won't stop pumping money into it, while the more earthbound among us continue to complain that the money should be spent elsewhere. (They forget the quite fundamental point that, like smalltown high schools that spend all the money they pick up during booster drives on athletic facilities instead of curriculum reform, America will always turn to diversionary money drains rather than concentrate on essential problems.)
So, if future space shots are to be judged on the basis of their diversionary possibilities, Apollo 11 scores high on the ratings. After all, if President Nixon, a man whose distinguished career is speckled with its own glorious moments, can call Sunday the proudest day of his life, what else can it be for the rest of us? And yes, Spiro, if you want to go to Mars, we're all for it as long as, next time, more color cameras are on board. For despite a few tedious stretches necessarily involved in transversing the macromiles, Apollo 11 carried off a splendid show. Despite the billions it cost, it was worth it. As even the usually jaded Walter Cronkite kept repeating Sunday afternoon, "Oh, boy!" Yes, Walter, for once we agree. Oh, boy! is correct.