Jesuit Father Pedro Cartaya ‘54 remembers the events of July 20, 1969 like it was yesterday. To be precise, the clocks read 6:17 p.m., local time in St. Louis, Missouri, where Fr. Cartaya was teaching and studying at St. Louis University, when the television announced to the world: “The Eagle has landed.” On that day, 50 years ago, the three crew members of Apollo 11, and by extension, humanity, first landed on the moon.
“Those footsteps left by Armstrong on the moon,” Fr. Cartaya said in an interview in Spanish, “which will never disappear, weren’t just a footprint on the moon. They were footprints for humanity, and as I tell my students, they were footprints for you and for me.”
For Fr. Cartaya, who is a self-declared lifelong lover of the cosmos and a self-taught astronomist, the moon landing represented the culmination of humanity’s desire to grow, to explore, and to go beyond what was thought to be the limits of accomplishment.
The legacy of the moon landing is still felt to this day. In addition to the wealth of technological innovations derived from Apollo 11 - retractable stadium roofs, lightweight fire-fighting breathing apparatus, cordless drills and solar panels to name a few - the mission to the moon inspired a generation of young learners with scientific curiosity about the stars.
Here at Belen, our own students were allowed by NASA in 1998 to send a DNA experiment kit to space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Fr. Cartaya himself also had the opportunity to bless some of the astronauts aboard the mission that carried Belen’s experiment. And years before, in 1988, Belen’s Class of 1972 built and equipped the Father Benito Vinñes SJ Observatory, a one-of-a-kind facility among highschools in South Florida, which is directed by Fr. Cartaya.
Father Cartaya’s memories of Apollo 11 don’t end with the moon landing. A few days later, New York gave the three members of the mission, Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin, a hero’s welcome, complete with a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Fr. Cartaya traveled to New York to attend the parade, and while he was there he had the opportunity to shake hands with the commander of the mission himself, Neil Armstrong.
“‘Good job!’” I said. ‘God bless you.’ My hand was shaking when we shook,” Fr. Cartaya said. In all, he remembers the moon landing as proof of what humanity is able to accomplish.
“That day, humanity showed passion, commitment, determination and the desire to serve others - for me, it was a true achievement what humanity accomplished that day,” he said.
Students interested in studying the stars and planets are encouraged to join the Astronomy Club, which meets weekly during the school year in the observatory. For more information, contact Father Cartaya at email@example.com.