Apollo 11 Recollections #5

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Apollo 11 Recollections #5 I Understood it was Something Important
I was eight. At home. The TV was black and white (and you actually had to get off the couch to change the channel). The memory is clear in my mind so I guess I understood it was something important, but it probably wasn’t until a few years later when I did a report for school about the Mercury 7 that it really sunk in. – Mike

Watching on Foreign Soil
I was living in the Netherlands and was about to return to the United States to go to college. I was working a summer job at the U.S. Army library at the International NATO base in Brunnsum, the Netherlands. When the event occurred, I was watching it on Dutch television and was able to hear the famous words with a Dutch translation over the top. This event was part of my decision to go into aerospace engineering that fall at the University of Southern California in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). My goal was to be an Air Force pilot and then become an astronaut and go to the moon or beyond. – Joseph Rouge

Got Me Hooked
I remember very clearly watching the landing in my living room with my family in Arlington, Va. I was 10 years old and from that day forward I became a spaceaholic. Following graduation from engineering school, I made a brief stop working in the Offshore Energy Field before coming to Kennedy Space Center in 1984 and working on the Shuttle Program. Today I am working on the Orion program and looking forward to being a part of getting back to the moon and beyond. It is a small world. – Lloyd Gregg

This is All Etched in My Memory
When NASA announced Apollo 11 would be the first lunar landing mission, with a target date of July 1969, I KNEW I had a date with history. It would be mid-summer, so school wasn’t a problem. My parents, that’s another story. I was still 16, with a driver’s license in my billfold for only 10 months. My Mom, bless her, came around rather quickly, realizing this was no whim on my part. She was able to talk my Dad into allowing me to make this epic journey to Florida, in our 1966 Ford F-100 pickup truck. So, at 5:00 a.m. on July 11, 1969, with my 13-year-old brother Dan as navigator, we left Elkhart, Ind., for the Cocoa area of Florida. A friend’s brother who worked for IBM, which built the Instrument Unit on the Saturn V, invited us to stay with him during launch week. On Monday, two days before the launch, we took the NASA tour at the Kennedy Space Center. One stop was at the massive VAB, known back then as the Vertical Assembly Building. With the doors partially open, we could see them assembling the Saturn V that would be used to launch the ill-fated Apollo 13. The best part of the tour was the stop maybe just a half mile from pad 39A, where the Apollo 11 rested, protected in her service structure cocoon. We were allowed to get out of the tour bus to take pictures. There were three tour buses there, making quite a large crowd, but it was hushed reverence for this gigantic beast, gleaming in the sunshine. We all knew we were looking at history, if all went well. Launch day started early. It was estimated over one million people would be viewing the Apollo 11, so we were headed for our viewing area at 2:00 am. I had never been to Florida before, it was such a shock to open the door and feel the Florida humidity at such an early hour, like a sauna. We were the first to arrive at this viewing location. Off in the distance, bathed in spot lights, was the Apollo 11, venting vapor from the liquid oxygen. By dawn, the viewing area was filling rapidly. I don’t know if the term “tail-gating” was used back then, this was a party of gigantic proportions. My only regret: missing the network coverage of the countdown; VCRs were still a good decade away. However, local radio did a good job of covering the event. A helicopter flew over. Moments later the guy on the radio said Dr. Wernher von Braun was arriving by helicopter, I like to think I had a brush with greatness. The launch was perfect, I will forever remember that moment. The day after the launch, we took the tour again. It was with melancholy, as we watched the empty mobile launch structure crawl slowly back to the VAB. We had to start making our way back to Elkhart, but didn’t want to miss THE EVENT. What better place to watch the landing than Huntsville, Ala., home of Dr. von Braun, and birthplace of the Saturn V. We arrived in Huntsville on Saturday, the 19th, did a driving tour of the area, then settled in to watch history unfolding. In those days there was no digital, no high def — why, the TV in the motel room was black and white! By Sunday the call sign wasn’t Apollo 11 anymore, for now it was Columbia, and Eagle. Most of the critical burns started behind the moon, out of earth contact. Mike Collins in Columbia confirmed the de-orbit burn was a success. Lots of technical talk ensued as Eagle approached the moon. I thought the time countdown Houston was giving was touchdown time, not fuel exhaustion time, so I wasn’t too worried when I heard, “one minute,” little did I know. Then I heard, “little dust”, “contact light”, and then…”Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” WOW this is it! I think Charlie Duke, the Capcom, said it for all of us:”we got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, thanks a lot, we’re breathing again!” I didn’t research this, this is all etched in my memory! Those first pictures, dull, grainy compared to the digital quality ones that we see from the space station, but no one cared. They were LIVE FROM THE MOON. At some point that evening of the landing, I went outside, looked up at the full moon and thought, man, men are up there right now. I feel so blessed, so lucky to have been around at that time. – Lonnie G. Hollandsworth

No One was Going Anywhere
I was spending the summer after my junior year at MIT working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for one of the scientist astronauts. At the time of the landing and first walk on the moon, a bunch of us were gathered on the living room furniture and floor in the home of one of the astronauts watching both a black and white (!) and a color TV to catch every nuance of what might be seen. The actual walk on the moon was late Houston time, but no one was going anywhere until we had witnessed all that was going to happen, including Neil Armstrong’s somewhat mumbled first comment on setting his foot down on the surface. – Jill Wittels

Truly a Revelation
I was sitting with my first child, two-and-a-half years old, on the floor in front of our first color television, seeing a black and white blurry vision sent to us from the moon! I thought my son would be sure to want to remember watching and hearing Neil Armstrong speak those wonderful words. He’s a father of four now, but I have not (yet) asked him if he remembers. It was truly a revelation to us adults that the moon was just rocks and dust. There had been all sorts of odd speculation of what icky conditions astronauts might face when they got there. What a reassurance the evidence provided. We had not yet seen the wonderful image of the Blue Earth provided later by NASA, and did not realize then that Earth was so very different from all other planets and our own moon. – Dr. Carole Bonga Tomlinson

The Landing Fortified American Optimism
I grew up in Florida and, therefore, felt like I “owned” the space program. My dad – like so many other dads in Florida at the time – was an electrical engineer who made sure his kids loved space as much as he did. I remember sitting right up close to that grainy picture on an old black-and-white TV on a particularly steamy July evening and thinking about how lucky I was to be alive at that time and in that place. Even as a teenager, I realized that I was witnessing something that would never ever happen again: a first among firsts. I was proud (and a bit cocky) to be an American and I felt boundless hope and optimism for the future. Now, as more and more often I am the oldest one in the room, I realize that a privilege of my age is that I got to be there to see that and to feel that way. And, even with all that may be wrong with world today I still feel hope and optimism because I was taught at an early age – by the space program – that anything is possible. – Janet Stevens, Space Foundation, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A President’s Dream Changes a Boy’s Life
Although 40 years younger, I still recall quite well that night when the landing on the moon occurred. I was a teenager and we (mother, father, two brothers) were staying overnight at our cousin’s house in Ventnor City, N.J. All of us watched the black and white television as the astronauts made their descent to the lunar surface. It was getting late, and my parents were especially tired from the drive down from Brooklyn, N.Y., in our 1957 DeSoto, so our parents turned in for the night. But we younger ones, my brothers and cousin, wanted to wait and see Neil Armstrong take those first steps on the Moon. So there we were, my brothers and I, and one of my cousins, sitting glued to the television until near 11 p.m. We could see Neil Armstrong take that “small step for a man,” but “giant leap for mankind.” I can still recall looking out the back of my cousins’ house to the deck overlooking the canal, where I would throw bread to feed the seagulls, and wonder how amazing it was for us to have reached the moon. I was hoping that a trip to Mars would not be far behind, but about that, I was wrong. Anyhow, I am now an astronomy college professor and director of my university’s observatory. Who would have figured then, that I would have ended up where I am now, and the effect that one president’s dream would have had on one boy’s life. – Dr. Harold Geller

Prediction: Not What We Expected
I was living in a barn in Southern Indiana, and working as a surveyor, trying to earn enough to get back into Indiana University, so I could go on to graduate work in planetary geology and a career at NASA. The barn was a popular camping area for cave explorers, and I was saving money by living there free. The surveying job gave out, and I was helping out at WFIU FM during the moon landing. I was even interviewed by the local news program, and made a prediction: whatever we find, it will not be what we expected. And that proved true, both for the moon landing and for my life. I did get a MA in geology and spent 20 years writing FORTRAN programs at NASA. Now I am working on my doctorate in global warming while hiring faculty for the University of Maryland University College. Not what I expected! But I’m still shooting for the moon, Mars, and any other semi-habitable planet. – Doug Love

Proud to See Our Dream Come True
I was in the U.S. Navy on the destroyer Fox in the Sea of Japan on the way eventually to Tokoyo, Japan. We had been sent there to patrol that area. At that time we didn’t have TV. I learned about it by word of mouth. It was great news! We all were so proud to be Americans and see President John Kennedy’s (and ours as well) dream come true. – John Schaefers

That Day is Linked to My Present Day
I was 12 years old. I begged my parents to let me stay up and watch the first steps a man was going to make on the moon. I went over to my best friend’s house because they had a bigger TV, and they, in turn, invited other neighbors. While I was an avid fan of the space program, this was a moment that left me in awe and wonder. I am now an engineer, and a program manager for Qualis Corporation. We have a significant presence at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. I hold two patents in propulsion and have one pending as co-inventor with NASA. The aerospace field is a dream come true for me. Obviously, the day man first set foot on the moon is linked to my present! – Roger Herdy

Memories on Another Great Aviation Moment
I was in Detroit, in graduate school, watching on TV. I remember talking to my aunt about it. She was born in 1893 and remembered the Wright brothers’ flight. – Martha Gay

Nationalities Melted Away
I was 18 years old, finished with my freshman year at the University of Kansas, and was traveling with a friend on our first trip to Europe. Our dads worked together and had recently been overseas. They thought that Europe was a safe place to send their daughters, so we were on “Cloud 9.” We started in Heidelberg, went to Amsterdam, and ended up in Paris at the time of moon landing. I remember clearly that we were walking on the Champs Elysees on July 20th, and we ducked into a restaurant to see a small television showing Neil Armstrong setting his first foot on the moon. The patrons of the restaurant erupted in cheers, and we could have easily been in the United States with all of the excitement. Not only were we elated that man had set foot on the moon, we were proud of our country. But somehow, the nationalities melted away as we all stood in awe of this human feat. This space adventure and accomplishment drew all of us together as human beings, and I will always remember that feeling. – Anonymous

The Achievement of Humanity
I was 13 years old in 1969 when man landed on moon. I was in 8th grade then, and this event, I think, made a deep impression on my young mind. I was following the news each day with great excitement. This event signified for me the achievement of humanity. – John Kunnathu

Recollections from a Daughter
My mom was playing on the lake…she was 8 years old. My grandpa was glued to the TV set. He spent the next week lecturing his kids about space and our solar system. – Rachel

Just a Brief Broadcast in Thailand
During all of 1969 I was a USAF Lieutenant serving a year in Thailand as an aircraft weapons controller at a remote mountaintop radar facility between Bangkok and Korat. We received all our news via radio broadcasts over the Armed Forces Thailand Network, mostly in the form of short bulletins. One night during our midnight shift we heard a short bulletin over the din of air-to-ground communications that the Apollo crew had landed on the moon. It was an exciting moment for us, albeit short-lived given the heavy op-tempo that night as we provided flight-following support to an extremely heavy surge of Thailand-based aircraft sorties enroute to and from Vietnam. I hungered for more information, but it would be another six months before I would return to the U.S. and watch replays of the TV coverage that was unavailable to us at the time. Later, as an Air Force Public Affairs Officer, I became a media spokesperson for many of the Air Force’s space activities until my retirement in 1987. I was fortunate to continue my professional space relationship via another 20-year career in the D.C. office of U.S. space propulsion pioneer Aerojet. – Don Brownlee

A Special Announcement
It was an amazing feeling. It was summer vacation between my sophomore and junior years of high school. My boyfriend and I went to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Sky Vue Drive-in in Colorado Springs, Colo. It seems as though there was a full moon (or almost full). The little old man who always came over the speakers to say, “The concession stand will close in 10 minutes,” came on and said, “Neil Armstrong has just stepped out onto the moon.” I will never forget that as long as I live! – Julie Hancock Groff

A Huge Leap Forward
I was on the Greenland Icecap at Thule. That was a Ballistic Missile Early Warning site with state-of-the-art radar. I couldn’t actually see the event live, but I’ll never forget being so awestruck and proud. Mankind did take a huge leap forward that day and so did America. God Bless the Vision, the Effort and the Success. – Eddie Bishop

An American Evening
It was my younger sister’s sixth birthday (I was nine) and as kids we could have anything we wanted on our birthday so she chose pizza. We sat in the family room watching the only TV in the house eating pizza. How much more American can that be? I remember my Mom had tears in her eyes and my Dad was totally amazed that we had actually done it. – Anonymous

Glued to Coverage Then; Space Journalist and Advocate Now
I was almost 11 years old, going into sixth grade in Simi Valley, Calif. Our family had just returned from a month-long, cross-country vacation to visit our grandparents and relatives in New York and Massachusetts. I insisted my Mom wake me up early (4 a.m.!) on launch day to watch CBS News’ coverage “as it happened,” since it wouldn’t be the same witnessing history on replays. For the next nine days, my world stopped as there was no interest whatsoever in going outside to play baseball, or do any of the normal summertime activities kids of my generation were likely to do. In the days before the Internet and 24/7 cable news coverage, “Uncle” Walter Cronkite and former astronaut Wally Schirra (along with John Chancellor and Roy Neal on NBC, Jules Bergman, Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith on ABC and the local L.A. station coverage) were my guides to the momentous occasion. When “Eagle” safely touched down at Tranquility Base on July 20 – my grandmother’s birthday – I informed my Mom who was in the kitchen washing the dishes. Later that evening, my family gathered in our living room, mesmerized as we watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take their first steps for all mankind in black and white on our 19-inch RCA color TV/stereo console. My Dad would step outside during the middle of the EVA to look up at the moon with his binoculars. Three years later, he would introduce me to Brig. Gen Robert H. White (former X-15 pilot/astronaut) and Col. Buzz Aldrin at the Edwards AFB Officer’s Club. Gen. White was the base commander while Buzz was commandant of the Air Force Flight Test School, and had become a family friend, and later a mentor and colleague to me in space advocacy efforts to this very day (National Space Society, Space Foundation, Planetary Society, Space Frontier Foundation, etc.). As a communications major in college, I would also go on to meet and befriend the late Roy Neal, Jules Bergman, Wally Schirra, and others during my student journalism coverage of the early shuttle flights and Voyager missions at JPL. The passion would eventually be carried over to my active duty career at Vandenberg AFB as a visual information officer from 1983-1991 with the 1369th Audiovisual Squadron. – Jim Spellman

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Photo Courtesy of NASA

This article is part of Space Watch: August 2009 (Volume: 8, Issue: 8).