Sunday, June 7, 2009

History moment: The moon landing recalled

In "The Moon and Sparrows," David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen reflects on the comments of the men who first landed on the moon, forty years ago:
To be fair, more was established by the research of Riley and Olsson, although their other results will surely be challenged. They are further convinced, by Commander Armstrong’s continuous movement and body language while speaking, that his line was not rehearsed. This would mean it wasn’t “scripted by the White House,” as two generations of the mildly paranoid have earnestly believed. It was the genuinely spontaneous poetical effusion of an engineer from Ohio, rising to a historic occasion.

My own view — not the product of forensic linguistics, but rather of mere literary criticism — was, and remains, that this line was prosaic, even corny. I do not condemn it on this account, however. It was a humble attempt at the grandiose, of just the sort one might expect from such a speaker, stepping out on the lunar surface, with a billion souls watching on TV. And it was beautiful for that reason.

There was high poetry, too, but it had been delivered less self-consciously, a little earlier, as the vehicle containing Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down. Paradoxically, that line gained all its poetry from being spoken, not in poetical language, but in mission jargon. It was:

“Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
I wonder if, once we get around to mining the moon, we will still want to call the base Tranquillity.