I remember it was a warm night on July 20, 1969. Our family was invited to watch the moon landing at the Hackson’s house. They were our good friends down the street. It was a fairly regular occurrence to visit each other’s house on a nearly weekly basis. I guess it was their turn to be hosts. (And if my parents drank too much, it was a short stumble home. I digress.) I was 13 at the time and was really caught up in the drama of watching a man take his first steps on the lunar surface. Even before that historic day, I was an avid NASA follower. I made sure my dad would wake me up to watch all of the Cape Canaveral launches which was usually around 5am. From the early John Glenn Mercury mission to the Gemini program right through to the Apollo missions I would be glued to the TV set. (Black & White.) I’d also have to watch every splash down when the men returned to earth. We had a subscription to Life Magazine which had phenomenal pictures of each momentous occasion. I wasn’t caught up in the political side of what was the space race against the Russians and the Kennedy challenge of getting a man to the moon and back before the end of the decade. I just loved the idea of astronauts going into space, doing their space walks and actually walking on the moon. (Maybe it was my Fireball XL5 influence. Google that.) I loved each triumph along the way and felt incredible anguish when things went horribly wrong like when 3 men lost their lives in a pre-launch test in 1967. The command module caught fire and they had no way to escape. I still remember the Life magazine photo not only for the grim reminder that there are risks in achieving a difficult feat but for how eerie it was to see the charred interior yet there was a paper notepad that did not burn.
Back to the moon landing. I read as much as I could about the entire mission and absorbed as much information as Walter Cronkite could provide. I knew the Lunar Module was called The Eagle, the Command Module was the Columbia. I knew what maneuvers were going to take place and I knew each astronauts name and I knew they were going to land on the Sea of Tranquility. What I didn’t know for sure was if they were going to be able to safely complete the mission. So I was pretty anxious. Of course during the course of the descent to the surface there were the obligatory cheese jokes, questions of whether or not there was an actual man in the moon along with wondering if Neil Armstrong’s first words were going to be, “Hey Buzz, I can see your house from here.”
While it was an amazing moment when we heard that “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” statement, I remember thinking that I wish the quality of the picture was better. (Maybe it was just the TV we were watching.) Although what was I expecting? They were millions of miles away and we were actually getting images you could recognize. It was a pretty remarkable night. As it turned out there was no cheese in the moon, no aliens showed up and of course, the mission was a huge success.
I often wonder about the other astronauts who made it to the moon and received very little acclaim compared to Armstrong. Without googling, how many of the other 10 who walked on the moon can you name? Can you name the last guy on the moon and did he turn the stove off before he left? (It was Eugene Cernan and they didn’t have a stove.) Human nature is funny. The world watched the first mission intently but by the time Apollo 17 was wrapping up NASA’s final mission, sadly it wasn’t that big of a deal. There was that Apollo 13 thing in there when we paid attention but for the most part, interest had waned.
Still, the moon landing is one of those “where were you when” moments and I can still vividly recall where I was and how exciting it turned out to be.
I never thought for a moment that I would have the opportunity to meet any NASA astronauts let alone the second guy to ever to walk on the moon. But when Buzz Aldrin came to town a few years ago as part of the Greatness In Leadership event, I was in on the media scrum that talked to him. Here’s that interview:
After that interview I had the amazing opportunity to have a quiet one on one with Buzz that wasn’t recorded. I really enjoyed that because he wasn’t getting bombarded with questions and he was more at ease. I will always remember that.
And now…on to Mars.