One Small Step

The first records I possessed were hand-me-downs. My eldest brother, Richard, whose natural, nurtured and self-developed musical talents were (and remain) considerable, passed them on to me; not in a formal way, but unconsciously, leaving certain records behind, when he left home and began a new life as a husband bound not only by his love for his wife but for music.


There were a few 45(s): Chris Smithers (“Old Kentucky Home”), Dave Clark Five (“If Somebody Loves You” “Bring It On Home To Me”) and my all-time 45 favorite; a double bill (of sorts): James Taylor (“You Can Close Your Eyes”) and Carole King’s (sung by James Taylor) (“You’ve Got A Friend”) as well as a 78: Blood, Sweat & Tears (whose “Variations On A Theme By Eric Satie” “God Bless The Child” “Spinning Wheel” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” were not only immensely pleasurable to listen to but assisted in educating, shaping and inspiring me musically).

A mention, or discussion of records, to those born into the era and culture of Napster, iTunes, MySpace and musician-approved websites (with a “pay as you like” download option) may be viewed as perplexing, esoteric, or, flat-out incomprehensible.

A Digital Native (with parents who have admitted to owning or using records) might ask: How could anyone tolerate listening to music in a format prone to warping, hissing, skipping, crackling; each exacerbated by the physical maneuvering required of phonographs? Without question, in view of music’s digital transformation, the question is not only sane, but is to be expected.

Space Oddity a 1969 album by rock musician David Bowie (originally released by Philips in the UK as David Bowie, by Mercury in the U.S. as Man of Words/Man of Music and was reissued by RCA Records in 1972 under its current title) is not only a marker in the history of music (and Bowie’s irrefutable contribution to music) but was featured by the BBC during its television coverage of the lunar landing. []

On Sunday, July 19, 2009 the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11's successful mission — the first human landing on the Moon, the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum welcomed the Apollo 11 crew, as well as Mission Control creator and former Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft as the speakers for the Museum's 2009 John H. Glenn lecture in space history.

Due to rapid online sell out of tickets to previous lectures of this type (which have been and remain free), the museum used a random drawing to provide more people the chance of attending. All requests in the random drawing had equal chance of receiving theater seating, overflow seating, or standby. Tickets could only be reserved online and could not be reserved through the Museum Box Office.

The Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, located at the National Mall building in downtown Washington, DC, where the Glenn lecture was held, has entertained and educated many by design; specifically, its capacity to project films on a five-story-high screen with six-channel digital surround sound.

At this year’s Glenn lecture (which was made possible by the “generous support” of the Boeing Corporation) [] Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins noted that the venue he found himself in was not meant for speeches. Nevertheless, he took to the podium, with apparent humility and sincerity and both educated and entertained in a dimension uniquely his own.

Collins is, arguably, the least famous among the Apollo 11 astronauts: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin possess a bigger share of the media moon pie. But evaluated by his persona and presence on Sunday, Collins is my favorite among the three men.

Collins shared with the audience, a conversation that took place between himself and one of his daughters: “What would you have said?” he asked his daughter; referring to Neil Armstrong’s (the first man to walk on the Moon) now famous assertion: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” []

As Collins reported, his daughter shot back this answer: “Do I look fat in this suit?”

Many in the audience reacted to the answer given by Collins’ daughter in the way I did — with a small, moderately audible dose of laughter. For those aware of and sensitized to the serious problems many girls and women face managing self-image with the manifold representations and images of what is deemed ‘beautiful’ ‘feminine’ and aesthetically ‘ideal;’ the daughter of an accomplished man proved herself not only endowed with a sense of humor, but capable, with just one question, of bringing to Collins’ audience, the serious subject and legacy of gender within NASA while simultaneously drawing attention to women’s achievements and contributions in the forty years since Armstrong took to the moon and asserted his gender’s near lock on space travel and exploration.

On August 4, 1999, the Chicago Tribune published a piece by Professor Martha Ackmann of Mount Holyoke College which she penned very close to the 30th anniversary of Apollo 11 []. Professor Ackmann’s piece is necessary reading if one claims to be the least bit interested in the multi-level discussion invited by Collins’ daughter.

After all, space suits are a feminist issue.

“Among our greatest national resources,” Ackmann notes, “for imparting understanding of the space program is the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The most-visited museum in the world, Air and Space attracts 10,000,000 visitors annually.”

The closest I have come to visiting Air and Space is through its website. Alas, I was not one of the randomly selected attendees at this year’s Glenn lecture. Though the museum’s website maintains a video archive (making Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins available for viewing when the moon is full, waxing or waning) I experienced their respective presentations and perspectives during the 2009 Glenn lecture via C-SPAN.

While I watched, I thought of one of the 45(s) in my possession, which, if evaluated by its surface and its shape, seems to promise a melody, rhythm or arrangement of one genre or another; but when maneuvered carefully upon my Bang & Olufsen phonograph, the 45 escorts me back in time to July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong gave voice to his special place in space travel by taking “one small step.”

I hope and pray humanity can move gracefully forward by stepping into the ‘final frontier’ of planets and galaxies with space suits flattering to all astronauts.

Can you hear me Mission Control?

©2009 Julie Holley


  1. I enjoyed this.

    My Dear Brother is a HUGE fan of the Air and Space Museum. I'm merely a tagalong. I try to understand, to wrap my mind around the gadgetry, but, it's just not my thing. I do appreciate it in my own way.

    As for body image: Isn't it something, that with all of the things a woman can accomplish during her lifetime, the thing that people focus on most are her physical attributes.

    That said, can a spacesuit really be flattering to *anyone*?

  2. Great article, Julie! 8) And thanks for including the link to Ackmann's piece -- although I know about Sally Ride I have to admit total ignorance regarding the Mercury 13. I'm hanging my head in shame right now!