Moon memories

In Sunday’s column I write about my childhood memories of the Apollo space program. You can read about, listen to and see photos of the moon landings on NASA’s website and watch videos there or on YouTube, such as this one.

Do you remember where you were on July 20, 1969? What did you think? Were the moon landings important to you?

Hit the comment button and tell us about it, at whatever length you choose. The Internet, like space, is infinite…

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  • Ramona

    I was the mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. I realized that:

    1) We were witnessing history in the making.

    2) My girls were much too young to absorb much of
    the importance of the event.

    At some point in the evening before bedtime I took them outside to look at the moon. I told them to try to think about the man who walked there. They indulged me by staring at the moon and commenting “Wow!” but I wasn’t convinced that they got it. How could they? I, as an adult, was staggered by the prospect of anyone walking on the moon. I believed it but I couldn’t absorb it. In fact, it still staggers me.

    Much to my surprise, years later when the anniversary of the moon walk came around, my teen aged beauties commented about the fact that I had taken them outside to look at the moon. Their comments convinced me that they had picked up on at least a little of the significance.

    All these years later I confess that I am still in awe of witnessing such an event.

  • John Clifford

    As a kid I was a complete space junkie (I was too old for Major Matt Mason toys, but had a “Cape Canaveral” set with layout and spring powered rockets).

    I was in college on that July 20 and had a job working at Disneyland (I was a busboy — not too glamorous but I had a good time). While there was a TV on in the back area, and a large TV in Tomorrowland for the guests, I, as a relative newby, was forced to be out in the French Market clearing tables.

    At the moment of Armstrong stepping on the moon, all sound stopped in the entire park, an announcement came up telling us what had happened, and they played, as I recollect, the national anthem (although it could have been God Bless America). The band on stage at the restaurant at the time joined in and at the end you could hear a gigantic round of applause from all over the park (even louder than after the fireworks).

    I had an opportunity to see the video the next morning, but was quite upset that I wasn’t able to view the “history in the making” like my peers.

    [As Charles Phoenix reports in his weekly e-mail blast, his mom recently reminded him that the two of them were at Disneyland that night, in Tomorrowland, watching the TV you mentioned, when Armstrong touched the moon. And then mother and son got in line for the Mission to Mars ride. -- DA]

  • Larry Egan

    I remember my wife was 8 months pregnant with our first child and we were driving home from Orange County to our home in San Diego. We had spent the day in a boring meeting with my former boss (he was trying to recruit us to sell Amway I think). My wife had a terrible toothache and was resting her head in my lap as I drove and we listened to the “landing” on the car radio (a ’67 Mustang convertible).

    The next day when the video was shown on TV I recorded it on my Super 8 movie camera. Still have that film. Shortly after, a pitchman on TV was selling a professional Super 8 film of the takeoff, interviews, the landing, and the return to earth with the capsule drop in the ocean, the return to “isolation” and the Silverstream trailer the astronauts were quarentined in, plus a visit from Richard Nixon.

    I couldn’t wait to load that film in to the projector. When it arrived and I loaded it up on our brand new Super 8 projector, the film was unviewable with half frames and blank spaces. What a disappointment.

    What I remember most was the genuine marvel expressed by Walter Cronkite (my hero) and the feeling of pride we all had as Americans. Good times.

    [Indeed. Thanks, Larry. -- DA]

  • Warren

    I remember July 20, I was in college and had a summer job working for a security company. I was working at a plastics factory and making the rounds when the owner of the company stopped me and asked why I wasn’t watching the moon landing. When I said I was making rounds, he said he was paying for me to be there and this was a moment in history so I better watch it. I watched the descent and landing and when the shift ended I went home and watched the landing with my family.

    Warren

    [Not a bad boss. -- DA]

  • JMac

    I was 14 and I remember the house being full of relatives. Several of my father’s cousins from Nebraska were on vacation in Southern California, so my folks held a mini reunion at our house. Fortunately the festivities didn’t get started till after the Eagle had landed, but it was in full swing when Armstrong stepped on the moon. So it was a pretty crowded den when he uttered those famous words.

    I also remember talking with my friend down the street the very next day, and was shocked to hear that she and her family had not seen it, as they had gone to dinner instead. I actually got angry hearing that, and felt it was a traitorous act. In my mind it was tantamount to not believing in Santa Claus. Heathen!

    Amazingly, we’re still best of friends to this day. David, I enjoyed this morning’s column.

    [Your friend's family's attitude must have been, hey, you can see man land on the moon every night, but dinner is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. -- DA]

  • VladtheImp

    Very sweet column. I remember the event well. We had adopted a new kitten that day though we didn’t have a name for it at that point. It was attacking the coasters of our ottoman as we watched the moon landing. I pondered the contrast of how great things happen amid the banalities of life (though I didn’t really put in those terms in my 13 y.o. brain).

    I wondered if there was a kitten playing on the Nina or Pinta or Santa Maria as it came within sight of Hispaniola. Or whether a cute little ball of fluff tumbled at the feet of Lincoln as he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Or even if there were any stray cats meowing as Homer wove for the first time the story of a man trying to get home to his family from a distant war. I watched the little gray kitten trying to bite the center column of the ottoman just as Neil Armstrong uttered his famous sentence. I was seized by a sense of how many great things were witnessed by ordinary people like me and yet not comprehended by them. I wondered if I would ever witness anything so amazing as this again.

    We decided to name our new cat Neil. Unfortunately, we never deserved a cat like Neil. As the months passed, we failed to take care of him properly and he grew to be a horribly dangerous, battle-scarred and really smelly large semi-feral tom that frequently attacked our more urbane neutered cat, McCarthy. Neil would simply never leave McCarthy alone and it really looked like he would someday kill McCarthy, named incidentally (no BS) after the Democratic anti-war presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. We fretted ineffectually about this from time to time but nobody really took any action to prevent what was sure to be an awful conclusion. Then the gods intervened. Neil ended up getting hit by a car. We all breathed a sigh of relief. McCarthy lived to a ripe old age. And Neil? Well, he’ll never be forgotten as long as I live.

    Sorry about the sad story but that is how I remember the moon landing.

    [Hit by a car? "One small step" proved fatal... DA]

  • James B. Downs

    On July 20, 1969, I was celebrating my 25th birthday with friends and we were glued to the TV. I was and still am a science fiction buff, so I was very appreciative of the technology of the time, and was excited to see science fact happen right in front of me. When they landed, I remember remarking that it would sure be cool if they would get out and walk on the moon on this same day, and it did happen! What a day!

    I couldn’t help but recall that on the day I was born, there was an attempt to assassinate Hitler and that regime was shooting V-2 rockets at Engand, and how far we had come in 25 years. I said, at the time, that I couldn’t wait to see what dreams and accomplishments mankind would achieve in the next 25 years when I was 50.

    Well, today, July 20, 2009, I turned 65. Things are certainly different. Some of the dreams and expectations were not achieved, especially in the space program. I fully believed that we would be on Mars by now and colonizing both Mars and the Moon. But, having said that, I have every confidence in the inherent resiliency of the human race, and I have the belief that goodness and curiosity still prevail, and we will continue to reach our full potential both here at home, and in the far reaches of space.

    [Jim, that was eloquently put. And happy birthday! Thanks for spending a little of it on this blog. -- DA]

  • Michelle Dubas

    During the summer of ’69 I was enjoying the remainder of my summer vacation before entering 4th grade. I remember watching the moon landing on our black and white TV. We had one TV, no remote, no cable, and about 5 channels. It’s strange, but it seems like there were more good programs to watch back then.

    As David said, it seemed everyone was enjoying glasses of Tang and bowls of Quisp cereal. Let’s not forget the Pillsbury Spacefood Stick! By the time I started 4th grade, almost all of my classmates had Spacefood Sticks packed in their lunches. I think they came in 3 flavors — vanilla, peanut butter and chocolate. I remember that my sister and I always pressured mom into buying those for us while we were grocery shopping.

    For anyone who is feeling a bit nostalgic for the foods that astronauts eat, I thought I’d pass along some information. If you have a craving for Tang and Quisp, just go to http://www.hometownfavorites.com — they have lots of products we thought they didn’t make anymore. Spacefood Sticks can be found at oldtimecandy.com/space-food-sticks — there’s a picture of an astronaut on the wrapper!

    [Thanks, Michelle. I have no recollection of the Pillsbury Spacefood Stick and perhaps was unaware of its existence. Suddenly I feel deprived. -- DA]

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:
    I was nine years old and totally a space cadet (many of my family and friends would agree nothing has changed over the years). I had been fascinated by the space program my entire life. I recall drawing a picture of a capsule orbiting the earth while I was in kindergarten, and that the teacher liked it so much she asked me to make a copy they could display in the school office (the beginning of an extremely short art career!).

    A few years later I mailed away to NASA requesting all the latest information, and they always sent back fascinating material that included newsletters and photos (I wish I still had all those pieces; most went onto the wall beside my bed).

    On that July night in 1969 I watched the landing on the TV in our living room. Although all the major networks were covering the event, of course I insisted our TV be tuned to CBS to get the best coverage from Walter Cronkite. (What bittersweet timing this is.)

    Dad was barbecuing dinner in the backyard. Since we didn’t have air conditioning back then, dinner was going to be outside on the patio. He became angry when I said I wanted to eat inside by the TV to watch history. In my family we didn’t eat any meals in front of the TV; that just wasn’t allowed.

    My father wasn’t a fan of NASA or the space program or anything of that nature. In his opinion it was a tremendous “waste of time and money.” He even suggested it was all a fake, just something that was being shot in a studio somewhere. I look back today and know he was just trying to poke fun at me, attempting to get his youngest son’s head out of the stars and feet back on earth.

    The result was I rushed through dinner and ran back inside in time to watch history unfold. By the time Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the ladder, the whole family was there watching, even dad. And when Armstrong spoke those immortal words, I scrambled to find paper and pencil so I could record them for myself. I said them over and over and over in the days to follow, hoping to burn them into my permanent memory. To this day, I can hear them in my mind in that somewhat fuzzy, static-laden, halting tone, one word missing from Armstrong’s intended comment …

    “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    [Wow! Now that's a memory! Thank you, Charles. Wonder what, if anything, NASA would send a little boy today who wrote to ask for information. But I suppose that's what websites are for, and NASA has a good one. As for the cost argument, an AP story in the Bulletin today pegs the entire Apollo program cost at, in today's dollars, nearly $150 billion -- or less than we spent in 2007 fighting two wars. -- DA]

  • http://sakionline.net D.L. MacLaughlan-Dumes

    I remember watching the full landing in my room — I was 15 at the time — having borrowed my grandmother’s portable TV, which she guarded ferociously unless I told her there was something scientific on and it would be good for my education. I don’t know why I didn’t want to watch the landing with my family, maybe I just wanted privacy at such a monumental moment.

    I remember thinking how familiar the lunar landscape looked, even in its ghostly transmission, like earth’s backyard, a place somehow a part of us that we just hadn’t reached yet.

    If you or your readers are interested, there’s an interesting site that’s replicating the moon landing in real time via animation and actual CapCom transmissions:

    http://wechoosethemoon.org/

    There will be times when the astronauts are behind the moon and things will be quiet, but it should be interesting over the next several hours and into tonight.

  • Bob House

    My memory of the moon walk is a fuzzy recollection about how fuzzy recollection is.

    One day towards the end of 1969 I was thinking about big news stories of the year and shocked myself by coming up with several before I thought of the July moon walk. It surprised me. In just a few months, what was clearly the big event of the year (decade? century?) had somewhat faded in my memory. It was an eventful year — Nixon inaugurated, last Beatles performance, Chappaquidick, Manson murders, Woodstock, Elvis’ comeback, withdrawal from Viet Nam and a second moon walk in November — but still, the first moon walk should have made a more permanent impression, I thought.

    I conducted a small psychology test (I was only a few months out of college) to see how others reacted and discovered that of the 7-8 people I asked, “What was the biggest news event in the past year,” only 1 or 2 called the first moon walk.

    Hard to believe that 40 years ago was were already so bombarded by media and information that even major memories were fleeting.

    [We always hear about information overload, as if the 21st century invented the concept, but perhaps it's all relative, eh? -- DA]

  • James Rodriguez

    July 20, 1969, half my family was watching the landing and the other half in the den was watching Roller Derby, Yeah L.A. Thunderbirds! I read a book written by Vietnam vets who told of their war experiences and one said that after a firefight they were told of the moon landing. He said his squad looked up at the moon and all said they would like to trade places with the astronauts.

  • Lisa Frazier

    July 20, 1969, was a day of validation for me.

    You see, my dad worked for North American Aviation (now known as Rockwell) and ever since I was in kindergarten, I had brought beautiful pictures for “show and tell” that my dad had brought home from work.

    Now these pictures showed some of the proposed space exploration, including the space lab and man landing on the moon, that he was working on, and I would tell them all the exciting things that my dad had told me about the pictures. The teacher and the kids would all look at me like I had rocks in my head.

    So on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong set his feet down on the moon, I really wished there was some way at that time that I could have given them all a big “Ha Ha, I told you so”!

    [Ha ha! Nice story, Lisa. -- DA]

  • Debi

    Great article, David…

    I was 16 years old and my family was visiting relatives in Rexburg, Idaho. We had gone out earlier in the day for a picnic in the woods. It was a great time and on the way back to the house, we stopped for gas and a cold drink in a very small town called Swan Valley, Idaho.

    The small gas station and store was one with a small house attached…through the doorway we could see the small black and white TV set the family was watching…the Eagle was just about to land so about 6 of us crammed our heads in that doorway to witness history…right there with strangers…proud Americans like we were…we all cheered with tears in our eyes.

    Later after the TV showed them walking on the moon, I remember looking up at the moon with awe that there were actually people there. The space era was and is still very exciting for me to remember. As I watched the Endeavor space shuttle take off the other day, it still gave me goose bumps.

    Thanks again for the story!!

    [You're welcome! And thank you for yours. -- DA]

  • Linda Frost

    I was at home watching it on TV — black and white.

  • Terry Sengsourichanh

    I was 11 years old when man walked on the moon and living on Long Island in NY. My Dad worked for Grumman’s, building the Lunar Module, so for us it was a huge, huge event! How excited I was, something my dad helped build and had actually touched was on the moon!! It was very exciting.

    I also remember a few weeks after the crew arrived back to earth they came to Grumman’s to thank everyone who had worked on the project and that my dad had gotten to shake Neil Armstrong’s hand, and I in turn was just so excited and wanted to shake my dad’s hand who had shaken the hand of the man who walked on the moon!

    [Wow! Thanks for sharing, Terry. -- DA]