The Meaning of Apollo

We are so very fortunate to have as a guest author, Ms. Roberta, Robyn, Villavecchia, who brings to us a very personal and very important appraisal and tribute of and to NASA’s Apollo program. For so many of us it remains the high point of America’s giant step forward in space exploration.  We encourage you to view the tribute video before you begin reading Robyn’s eloquent and heart warming answer to the Meaning of Apollo.

I am a futurist.  Unashamedly so, and unrepentant!   I am a dream chaser, an explorer of new thoughts, new concepts and a seeker after new insights.

Perhaps it was my growing up during the golden age of science fiction. Writers with names like Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury, telling stories of living on the moon or Mars, of exploring the “Three Laws of Robotics”, of longing to see one final time, “The Green Hills of Earth!”

Perhaps it stems from the fact that my parents were poor and when it came time for college, we could only afford a cooperative work/study program at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.  This was an incredible stroke of good fortune, for the work phases of that program, were at White Sands Proving Ground.

At the time, the White Sand Proving Ground was the home of the Operation Paperclip refuges from the German WWII rocket program, and it truly became the home of the “Rockets Red Glare!”

Names change with the times.  White Sands Proving Ground became White Sands Missile Range and New Mexico A & M, became in due course, New Mexico State University.  I too changed with the times as did many others.  Dr. von Braun and his cadre of “rocketeers” moved on, some to Huntsville, others to far locations and other industries…

After college I did a short stint in a food lab in Southern California, counting fly eggs in soup.  Hardly the heady stuff of fire breathing missiles and white contrails etched into the azure skies of the high desert.

I longed to go back, and I was indeed fortunate to land a job at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility.  WSMR and WSTF are often confused. WSTF is on the western side of the Organ Mountains, near Las Cruces NM whereas the U.S Army’s WSMR and Holloman AFB is on the eastern side.

It was at WSTF that I became immersed in things that go boom and spit fire!  At the time, 1963 or ’64, the engines for the LEM and SPS were being tested and I was tasked with learning how to safely handle and perform chemical analyses on the hypergolic propellants to be used in Project Apollo.  Anyone in the field of rocketry knows that hypergolic fuels and oxidizers are nasty.  They ignite on contact, burn fiercely and are exceedingly toxic.

I reveled in the challenge!

By 1965, I had graduated to where the big kids played – Cape Canaveral and the adjacent Merritt Island Launch Area, home of the mighty Saturn V!

Still in my early twenties, I was steeped in the science fiction of the past and the science reality of the future.  I had, in my estimation, the greatest job in the world!

Alas, the future I dreamed of, manned missions to Mars and beyond, were not to be…

“I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.”

Nearly a half century later, I find myself pondering the past, yet curiously, still dreaming of the future.  And in so doing, I am forced to ask myself, “What is the meaning of Apollo?

Was it simply an example of geopolitical one-upmanship? Was it an exceedingly expensive rock hunt?  Or, was it perhaps the WPA of the 1960’s?

The answers of course are yes.  But it was and is, so very much more.

Apollo stands as a validation of mankind’s need to explore, to give free reign to his curiosity and more importantly, his imagination!

Apollo is a testament to man’s ingenuity, his ability to innovate, to improve upon what has gone before!

Apollo venerates man’s courage to face and overcome fear and adversity.  It harkens back to the day when the first band of humans forsaking their home, ventured forth out of Africa!


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”


Jorge Agustín Santayana penned these words in “The Life of Reason”, 1905-1906. They are words that will live on in eternity.

He also said, “…only the dead have seen the end of war.” The two go hand in glove.

When President Nixon dashed the hopes and dreams of Dr. von Braun, and all of us in the Apollo program, of building on the success of the moon landing and going on to Mars, it was in my opinion, so that monies could instead be spent in prosecuting the war in Southeast Asia.  In canceling the Constellation program the current administration feels the need to free up funding in order to better prosecute the war in Afghanistan.

History indeed repeats itself…

It seems there is always money to feed our darker angels.  When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?

The words to the above song, written by Pete Seeger in 1955, were addedby Joe Hickerson in May 1960, and are as true today as they were when they were written.

Perhaps, more than anything else, Apollo stands as a mute witness to our never ending propensity toward violence, of making war rather than making peace, of forging weapons instead of  plowshares.

Perhaps Apollo stands as a Clef to the Song of Man.


Header Image: The magnificent and powerful shuttle, in this case Atlantis. A glorious product of NASA and associates.

Explore posts in the same categories: Humankind and Exploration

One Comment on “The Meaning of Apollo”

  1. XiNeutrino Says:

    I had the distinct honor of publishing this article by Robyn. It brings every reader closer to understanding the immense dedication and commitment by ALL that were part of that magical team effort. To learn even more, visit the Urban Times to read a current interview with Robyn by their science editor.

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