COLUMN: Celebrity worship has replaced real heroes

Today is my birthday. I was born on July 15 a long, long time ago but, despite what many people think, not in a galaxy far, far away. No need to send presents, cash is fine.
I won’t say exactly when I was born but I’ll never forget one of my most memorable birthdays. I had just officially become a teenager way back in 1969 when, on the day after my birthday, Apollo 11 blasted off for the moon.
You do the math. Five days later, man set foot on another world for the first time.
That was a huge birthday present for a kid fascinated by space and the technology that had been developed to get us there and back. Forget that the first moon landing had been a decade in the making or that the launch date could have been anytime. It happened on the day after my birthday and I took that as a personal gift from the universe.
I was thinking about those days recently as I watched NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite approach the moon. LCROSS, as it is known in NASA parlance, was sending back live video late last month of its approach to the moon via the Internet and I was right there at my computer watching as the moon grew larger and larger.
Despite my disappointment that they hadn’t timed it better to coincide with my birthday, the images brought back a lot of memories of being glued to the TV screen throughout the Apollo 11 mission.
This coming Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and walk on the surface. Forty years. Has it really been that long? Way back when it first took place, I used to imagine that, by the time I reached those astronauts’ ages, I’d be living on the moon or, even better, Mars. Instead, I live in Oxford which, despite technically still being on Earth, can sometimes feel like a parallel universe.
A lot and nothing has happened in the 40 years since that first moon landing. The Apollo astronauts were treated as heroes and rightly so. They were three men doing something
no one on the planet had ever attempted before and they succeeded. The whole world, even our feared Cold War enemies, applauded the effort. It brought the planet together like nothing before or since has done with the possible exception of the doomed Apollo 13 mission.
But once the task was accomplished, we seemed to shrug our collective shoulders and ask, “What next?” And there was no answer. And no more real heroes like those three
astronauts in the ensuing four decades to spark our imaginations, only celebrity stand-ins.
Which is a shame, because isn’t walking on the moon much more worthy of hero worship than moonwalking?
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University, MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.

Marty Russell