When I was in high school, I spent one summer working a NASA Langley Research Center as part of something called the SHARP program (Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program). Basically, I got a really cool minimum wage job for the summer working on experimental airplanes. For the most part, it was a makework program to encourage science-oriented students. I had a lot of free time. One of my favorite things to do during lunch was to go to the base library and check out official NASA films of various space missions, particularly the Apollo missions. I would take these large canisters of honest-to-goodness film and walk down the hall to the room with the projector, thread the film, and watch movies of guys doing zero-g tumbling in Skylab or some such thing. I loved it, and I knew how lucky I was to be in one of the few privileged places on Earth where it was so easy to look at movies like that.
Now NASA, the National Archives, and Google have teamed up to put these same movies on the web. Anybody with access to broadband Internet can watch what I watched back in 1982. Watching some of them again brings up several competing emotions. First is the same raw amazement I have always felt watching these stories of people flying to the moon in tin cans. Did that really happen? It’s still incredible. At the same time, I am nostalgic for that summer in Virginia long ago. And then there’s the amusement of what documentary films looked like 35 years ago. Finally there is the thrill that millions of people can do now what so few could do back then… watch, mouth agape, and be inspired by these crazy stories. Then again, maybe they’re all playing Grand Theft Auto instead.