Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Yankees Honor Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Former Yankee pitcher Jack Aker and astronaut Mike Massamino. Photo by Jason Schott.

On Saturday, the Yankees honored the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Before their game against the Colorado Rockies, there was an Apollo 11 video tribute and astronaut Mike Massamino threw out the first pitch.

Massamino has made two missions to the Hubble Telescope and four space walks to make critical repairs to the telescope.

Former Yankees pitcher Jack Aker caught the first pitch from Massamino. Aker was on the mound at Yankee Stadium that day in 1969 against the Washington Senators when an announcement that Apollo 11 had landed safely on the moon stopped the game momentarily. There was also a message on the big scoreboard in right field that read, "They're on the moon." The Yankees went on to win that day.

Aker said of that moment, "I was on the mound and my first idea that something was going on, I heard Bob Shepard say, 'we're going to break in here,' and so I just backed off the rubber down onto the grass and everybody stood still for a minute or so, and then we realized it was going to take more than that, so the infielders bunched up and the outfielders, I think, joined together, but I didn't want to go in and mix with anybody because I didn't want to break my concentration, which is very easy to break. So, I just stayed around the area around the mound, and I actually sat down on the grass and took a breather.

"I just want to say that we were playing a kid's game at a man's level, but all of our playing and everything came nowhere close to what these guys were doing. We were little tiny people compared to what these guys were doing. I'm so proud of him and all the other astronauts. I really think they're A-number one, higher than major league."

Massamino said of his memories of viewing the moon landing, "I was six years old and it changed my life. My two passions in life are baseball and space, and right around that time is when those passions were formed, that summer of '69. It made me want to grow up - if I couldn't be Jack Aker, I wanted to grow up to be Neil Armstrong, and that's what I wanted to do. I knew it was important; I knew everyone thought it was important. My family, the whole word was paying attention, but it meant something a little deeper to me when I saw those guys walked on the moon, so to me, it was life-changing...

"It was an American program, an American accomplishment, but I think what they didn't realize at the time, from what I've heard from my friends who walked on the moon, and I've gotten to know almost all those guys - most of them are gone now, but they've told me that, after they landed, and they went on their tour around the world, it was never 'you did it,' it was never 'the Americans did it' - it was always 'we did it.' I don't think they could have predicted that, that it was seen as an accomplishment for the whole world.

"That's why I think the significance of it was so huge because I don't think there's anything else that could do that, to unite the whole world. It wasn't just Americans watching those TV sets; it was the entire world stopped and took notice and took pride in that accomplishment. It's fitting that the US flag is on there, and it's great that they played 'America the Beautiful' (at Yankee Stadium) when it happened, but I think  that's very fitting. I think it was the whole world felt that they participated."

Massamino said of recent reports that the United States government wants to get back into space exploration, "Since the moon landing, we've still been very active. We'll never, I think, replicate, as far as the interest, the accomplishment, that was accomplished 50 years ago, and that's okay. I think that Apollo 11 landing was that momentous of an occasion, that anything that comes after it just won't be as big, and that's okay.

"I think we're looking at a very long time until we have something that we can say was near what they did 50 years ago; that's how monumental that was. Since that time, we finished a moon program in 1972 and then they flew Skylab and we got into the shuttle, which is where I came in about halfway through that. On the Space Station, we have astronauts working together on international crew, including Russians and countries of Europe, Japan, and Canada, so we're still active. What's exciting, though now, is that, in the next year, we will be launching again, it looks like, hopefully - and they'll do it when they're ready - but the hope is that we'll be launching astronauts again for the first time since 2011 from U.S. soil. We're going to continue to work the space station program. They're building a big rocket called The Space Launch System in which the spaceship Orion will go on the top of that. That's going to be capable of going to the moon or further.

"I think what's also very exciting is what some of these private companies are doing, like Space X, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, so I think we're at a phase now that is similar to where we were maybe a hundred years ago with airplanes, where you had primarily governments and then some barnstorming going on for awhile, and then it led into the commercial airline industry. That's where I think we kind of are now, right around that time where we're transitioning from governments only to we're going to see some private enterprise. I think it's pretty exciting. Not as exciting as Apollo 11, but I think it's going to be an exciting few decades coming up."

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