It was a day decades in the making.
Growing up in the 1960s, nothing mesmerized me more than the Space Race. I was five years old the night that Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man.” I remember it vividly. Like every other kid in 1969, I dreamed of flying in space and walking on the moon. Given my challenges with basic arithmetic, and my tendency to toss my cookies on anything that spins, this was never going to happen. If you can’t ride the Tea Cups at Magic Kingdom, chances are you won’t last long riding a Saturn V rocket, either.
Go ahead. Call me an astroNOT.
The Kennedy Space Center is only an hour east of Walt Disney World. It might as well be on the moon. Despite my fascination with space, growing up in Florida, and now flying there more frequently than any other destination, it took a giant leap for me to finally go.
I had thought about it.
I had talked about it.
I had dreamed about it.
But it took a reader of The Wisdom of Walt, one who works for NASA, reaching out to me and inviting us on a personal tour for me to finally go. We sacrificed a Sunday at Walt Disney World and instead met our host at the Space Center gates at 9 a.m. Disney, Tomorrowland, Epcot, and Future World are all about fantasy. The Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are all about reality.
I could write a book about everything I saw, heard, and learned over the next six hours. The story that stuck with me the most came from astronaut Jim Lovell in the Heroes and Legends attraction. Lovell was the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and the Commander for Apollo 13. Apollo 8 is famous for being the mission that sent man out of earth’s orbit and into lunar orbit for the first time. Apollo 13, of course, is the failed mission that NASA considers its greatest success. Lovell never landed on the moon, but returning safely to earth after a service module explosion crippled his spacecraft gave us the famous expressions: “Houston, we have a problem,” and “Failure is not an option.”
On July 16, 1969, when Apollo 11 took off for its four day flight to the moon, it left with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins aboard. Jim Lovell had a different job that day. He was responsible for escorting famed American aviator, Charles Lindbergh, to his VIP spot on the beach where he would watch the 9:32 a.m. liftoff.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was the most celebrated person in the world. He was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, going from New York to Paris in 33.5 hours. In 1969, we all wanted to be astronauts. But in 1927, everyone wanted to be Charles Lindbergh.
In November, I wrote about how Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon wasn’t Steamboat Willie but a short called Plane Crazy. In early 1928, Walt linked Mickey to Lindbergh hoping that his newest cartoon character could cash in on the cultural craze. Together, aviation and animation were never the same.
Seventy-two hours after touring the Kennedy Space Center, I was back in the classroom giving a lecture to graduate students. I shared the Lovell/Lindbergh story. To my shock and dismay, not a single student had ever heard of Charles Lindbergh. They had no idea who he was. No clue what he had accomplished.
History, we have a problem.
I challenged them to use their “smart” phones, get off social media, and look up Lindbergh. “He was an American aviator,” was the first response. I replied with, “My Southwest pilot on Sunday night was an American aviator. Tell me more!”
I am old enough, barely, to remember the world before men walked on the moon. Fifty years later, I can appreciate the amazing world we live in today. The definition of technology is “anything invented or created after you were born.” Footsteps on the moon were created after I was born.
Dreamers have always had their head in the clouds. Entrepreneurs have always prided themselves on doing it all alone. When The Wisdom of Walt is going well it is tempting to believe that I created my own success out of thin air. In the midst of the inevitable struggles and obstacles, it is equally enticing to think that the weight of the world rests on me and me alone.
Neither is true.
In 2019, I know that I couldn’t do what I am doing if it weren’t for the pioneers who have gone before me. People like Johannes Gutenberg who created the printing press. Jeff Bezos who built Amazon. Or even Al Gore, who “invented the internet.” My success has been a millennia, or more, in the making.
Regardless of where your head is today, please remember that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Giants like Lindbergh who first made reaching for the stars and dreaming of the moon, possible. Your work may be lonely, but you are not alone. Others have gone before you.
Forgetting is not an option.
“The era we are living in today is a dream come true.”