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Yale 62

Project Apollo

By Paul Wortman

In May 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke at our college graduation. While he joked that he now had the best of all possible worlds — “a Harvard education and a Yale [honorary] degree,” he’s now best remembered for the short-lived dream of Camelot, the Cuban missile crisis, and two lasting, political accomplishments — the Peace Corps and developing the space program by sending men to the moon within the decade. The latter became known as “Project Apollo.” I guess this name was chosen because the Greek sun god, Apollo, sounded more positive than the moon or “Luna.” One can only imagine all the “lunacy” jokes if that more accurate name had been chosen. As fate, or the gods, would have it, within a year I would be working on Project Apollo commissioned by President Kennedy.

By that time, I had just completed my first year of graduate school in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). My adviser, Allen Newell, had lined up a summer job for me at MIT’s Lincoln Labs located on the Hanscom Field Air Force Base in Lexington, Massachusetts. MIT had the contract to write the computer code for the Apollo mission and I, and another CMU graduate student, were hired as part of the small group of programmers to work on it. The job appealed to me because I liked programming and it was only two hours from my parents’ home in Connecticut.

MIT, along with CMU, was emerging as a leading academic research center in the new field of computer science. Since the computer work required a secure off-campus, military site, MIT was using a remote programming system they had developed called Project MAC for Machine-Aided Cognition. One sat at a terminal and typed, rather than keypunched, computer code. In this case, it was in Fortran. The programs were then immediately assembled, that is translated into machine language, and run at MIT’s computer center twelve miles away in Cambridge. Within minutes, the output or results were printed. It was addicting, just like a human Skinner box where we were the pigeons pecking on the keyboard and our reward pellets were the outputs of our programming efforts. As we fell into this 24/7 reinforcement routine, we renamed MAC to stand for “Man and Concubine.”

Our small group was treated to the latest videos from the space program. We were the first, outside of NASA, to see the astronauts walking in space and performing all the other technological feats that eventually took man to the moon. I only worked two summers at Lincoln Labs and never knew exactly what our programs were being used for. I guess in those youthful, naïve days I was too focused on graduate work and dating to think much about a few summers’ work outside of Boston.

However, just as the mighty Saturn rocket carried men through the arc of space, it also took me through a longer arc of time. In spring, 2006, I decided to respond to two Yale classmates, Steve Buck and Chris Bent, who were debating the Iraq war. I wrote a Jungian analysis that was posted on our class (Yale62.org) website, “George W. Bush’s Democratism: A Jungian Response to Buck and Bent.” I immediately received an e-mail from Chris, who supported the war. His e-mail name was “Frogfather,” and he’d been a Navy Seal during the ‘60s. Now he is a retired, Christian conservative living in Florida and very active in his church. As our e-mail conversation progressed, I learned we shared a common history beyond college. His proudest moment as a Seal was being the first man to open the bobbing capsule and welcome the Apollo astronauts home upon their return from space.

Suddenly, it hit me that we, too, were both joined in this event. Despite our seeming differences—he a Southern, red state conservative, and I a Northern, blue state liberal; he for the war, and I against; he a devout Christian calling the DaVinci Code “a blasphemy;” I a cultural Jew who thought, like Jung, that Dan Brown’s book heralded the needed resurgence in the “sacred feminine” to restore the patriarchal imbalance pervading the world — that we both could work together on arguably the most important technological adventure of our generation. For all I knew, my computer programs may well have been guiding the Apollo rocket through liftoff to landing. And there waiting for them was another classmate, Chris. I thought if only we could find that unity of purpose again.

Epilogue. I concluded our e-mail conversation by sending Chris the following poem, which is my credo. He responded by sending the following photo (at the top) and saying, “Hey, your poem is absolutely marvelous……… that is how I choose to remember you…”

We Are One

The compass spins madly
eternally seeking the
one true direction.
Museums overflow
weary with fragments
scattered by legions of men
who hacked their way
through history
claiming to follow the
one true path.
Verily, when we see clearly
that all drink from a spring
of the one pulsing artery,
then shall it be said,
we are one.

We carry with us
the ancient banners
of the gods that sheltered us.
From Artemis to Zoroaster
they encompass the
alphabet of soul
that spells the
one true word.
Hallelujah! It is revealed:
We are the Alpha and Omega.
Before the last trumpet of time
will all sin be cast aside
by compassion?
Will all revenge be annulled
by love?
Will all salvation be sealed
by peace?
For surely we will only bathe
in that pure river when
we are One.

From afar dancing
on golden rays
twirls the one blue ball
where we cling to the
one true dream
of all men and gods.
From Thebes to Rome,
from Lhasa to Kyoto.
from Jerusalem to Wittenberg,
from Babylon to Mecca,
let the word go forth.
Hear O nations of the world,
We are the Lords your Gods;
We are One.

We gather now
sons and daughters
as the world’s
one true congregation
to face the fear
of our differences.
O my brothers and sisters,
when we have banished blame,
conquered craving, and put aside pity,
then will darkness become light as
emptiness becomes non-emptiness
and suffering surrenders to
the noble truth of nirvana’s path.
Here, and only here,
annealed in the
scars of our ancestors,
we can live together when
We are truly One.

A recent dream (December 2007) highlighted the importance of both the poem and the pictures of earth from space. It contained only one image repeated at the end so that I would not forget. The image was of a giant blueberry just like the earth. This clearly was an important symbol that could easily have been overlooked in the prior dream. This was the Jungian transcendental function revealed—the earth-shaped and earth-like blueberry that is my favorite fruit and my favorite color. The blueberry which itself is one of the magical fruits of the earth is also associated with improved mental functioning. So, it combines the chthonic aspects of the nurturing feminine with the thinking masculine. Simultaneously, blueberry-earth seen from space is the 20th century symbol of oneness.

 

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