They were all up on stage when the cosmonaut Valery Kubasov was introduced. With a lapel full of medals he strode across stage. As he walked past Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, and almost every other living American space hero, the Soviet anthem blared out over the audience.
Soyuz nyerushimyy respublik svobodnykh / Splotila naveki Velikaia Rus.
I wasn’t alive for most of it, but for decades, the world gripped the edges of their seats as the United States and the Soviet Union stood at the constant brink of war. And yet, even during this time, there was one area where even these bitter enemies worked together — as friends. And that was the space program.
This weekend, the Museum of Flight held their “Wings of Heroes” Gala. It was a celebration of the last 50 years of space travel and a fundraising event for the museum, which is home to the first jet powered Air Force One, a Concorde, and the Full Fuselage Trainer used to train Shuttle astronauts.
They had more than a thousand guests, including several representing the future of space travel: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and the backer of the Blue Origin space venture; NASA Mars Rover veteran Chris Lewicki, “chief asteroid miner” at Planetary Resources; and Eric Anderson (X-prize, Space Adventures, and Planetary Resources).
Other special guests included Buzz Aldrin (who cited “location, location, location” when asked why his iconic visor photo is so famous), Neil Armstrong’s two sons (who talked fondly about how frustrating it was to watch science fiction shows with their dad), and crews from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle programs.
In addition to speeches from some of these guests, the event included amazing interviews, documentaries, and films about the last 50 years of the space program — often showing footage of 50 year younger versions of people on stage.
They showed footage from the early X15 tests and the early days at NASA. We heard the story of Sputnik and Kennedy’s response to it from people who were there, and who were charged with making his vision reality. There was a film about Skylab, the first permanent human stronghold in space.
It was a powerful night. I’ve always been interested in space (I don’t really get people who aren’t), but I grew up in the 90s. We had already conquered gravity, orbit, and the moon. Shuttle launches were commonplace. Putting satellites into the sky was no longer unusual. The media had lost its fascination with space travel, and there were fewer barriers being visibly shattered to get excited about.
But damn. When Valery Kubasov walked out on stage with the Soviet anthem playing, and you saw the looks of friendship and admiration in the eyes of some of the greatest American astronauts, and when he spoke to the audience in Russian and the translator said he was “proud to serve with these men, and proud to have been part of the Apollo-Soyuz Project, and proud to be here”…
I may have missed out on Apollo 11 and landing on the moon. I may have missed out on Alan Shepard’s Han Solo-esque line, “Let’s light this candle!” And I may have missed out on Ronald Reagan’s broadcast after the Challenger tragedy …
But damn. Saturday night was a powerful night.
(Thanks to Mike Koss and the Museum of Flight for inviting my friend and me, and for closing out the evening with our “We’re NASA and We Know It” video.)
Zachary Cohn loves making things happen, and loves to work on problems that matter. At Startup Weekend he’s in charge of “All Things G”: He runs the Google Bootcamps and is building out the Startup Weekend: Government vertical. He also is Startup Weekend’s CAO (Chief Acronyms Officer). When he’s not changing the world through entrepreneurship, he’s training parkour and doing backflips, making viral videos, and running the Hacker News Seattle Meetup. He also thinks space is really, really cool. Follow him @zacharycohn.
Photos by Long B. Nguyen: See more of his pictures from the night here.
Update: Here’s a few more photos taken by Ted Huetter of the Museum of Flight.