Interviews by James W. Ashley and Kevin S. Jung
(With a forward by David L. DeBruyn)
So many of us remember right where we were when certain historic events took place: such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the resignation of Richard Nixon, or the landing of the first person on the Moon. But wait a minute. People under 20 weren't even alive when that momentous occurrence took place!
This summer, we celebrate the anniversary of man's first footprint on the lunar surface, July 20th, 1969. Yet so many alive today, even those who "were" old enough to witness it via the magic of television, remain so indifferent, both to the historic reality of the event, and to its significance. "We went to the Moon. So what! What did it do for me?"
Well, so much of what we take for granted in this day and age: computers, compact disks, miracle fabrics; the list goes on and on, were an outgrowth of technology originally developed for space exploration. There was also a sense of national pride that came as an outgrowth of the realization of a human goal that has been with us almost since people first looked up at the Moon, silent, remote, and beckoning, and thought about the possibility of going there.
Without a desire to explore, to seek new frontiers and further conquests of the unknown, our society will languish. We can only hope that we will soon once again establish further space exploration as a national and worthwhile goal. Then some of the comments and reactions that follow, from people that remember the glory days of Apollo, and how it made them feel, can be similarly experienced by those of a later generation, most of whom were denied such a thrill.
Hopefully, they will one day reminisce about the establishment of the first space station, a permanent base on the Moon, or even the pioneering voyage to Mars, just as those below are doing here as they look back at that historic event of two decades ago. Let's hope so!
-- David L. DeBruyn
James M. Marron: "July 20, 1969. It was a dark and stormy night [laughs]. Gary was there, so was Evie and Mark Christensen, it was at our house. On the TV they were giving you hints on how to photograph your TV screen for this momentous occasion. And of course all of us had to do that.
The one thing that stood out later (I understood what happened) when Armstrong stepped on the moon, he said, 'One small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind.' That was wrong. He was supposed to say, 'One small step for A Man, one giant leap for Mankind.' And it became an embarrassing thing for him because he had missed his line. For quite a while after that, they (NASA) tried to say that he had actually said, 'A man,' but everybody had it on tape. So now it's quoted properly, the way he said it.
Another thing about that evening. We looked out the dining room windows, and there was the biggest moth that I had ever seen in my life. It was on the bottom of the skylight under the overhang. It turned out to be a giant green Lunar Moth. And it was so appropriate for the occasion, that we photographed it.
I remember the one question was, would they sink into the surface? The surface turned out to be more compact, and the astronauts left very definite footprints.
They had a camera attached to the spacecraft. Aldrin also had a camera. They later removed the camera from the leg of the spacecraft. It was a very slow scan camera, so when they moved rapidly, you would get sort of a double image. Armstrong photographed Aldrin coming down the ladder, and coached him on how to negotiate the last step.
All in all, I was impressed."
Gary M. Ross: "I observed the landing on CBS television at the Marron house. It was a rather hot early evening. The crescent moon was in the west, and I remember looking at the crescent moon over the American flag, which had been raised and tied to the terrace roof latticework over the Marron's front door. The house was full of people. I remember Evie Marron falling asleep at intervals, and I can say that the most vivid or whimsical recollection of the entire evening was when the broadcast from the moon was all through, and the television people were going through their recapitulations: Jim Marron looked at me (he was sitting on the sofa facing the television (we had two televisions that day)), and said 'I don't believe it.'" [Laughs] "And I agreed with him. It was pretty tough to take. There's nothing I can add over and above that which others have said, but I think I took the event with probably less a feeling of moment than older people would have because I am essentially a child of the space age. And whereas nobody could have predicted in the late fifties that such a thing would have happened by 1970, nonetheless it was pretty much a part of my whole upbringing in the world in which I grew up that there was a space program and such things were not only possible, but to a point imperative. And so when this thing happened, admittedly earlier than when I would have guessed it should have happened, I did not have the feeling that something truly Earth- shattering had occurred. However, for people who were aware of the state of technology and national policy in an earlier period before the dawn of the space age in, say, 1957, for them it might have seemed more remarkable than it did for me.
For example: In Detroit, my mother watched the event with her business friend Mr. William Goldstein (of course William was not his given name, he was born in Czarist Russia and came here as a young man). At that point, Bill Goldstein was around 75 years old. He was an intelligent and worldly man, having been around a great deal in business, and he thought that the whole thing was fearful to watch; because he saw the men walking about on the moon and their only way of surviving this was to his thinking 'Get back in the thing. Get back in the thing.' That's all he would say in his very heavy Russian accent, 'Get back in the thing,' because he couldn't see any reason why these men would risk their lives galloping about in their suits on the moon when all they had to do was get back in the thing and they would be safe. And now that I think about it some 20 years later, old Bill Goldstein wasn't so crazy after all. He had some appreciation of the great danger involved and, let's remember, he grew up in an era and in a place in which such an event was literally unthinkable by any reasonable man. And here he was in his 75th year sitting and watching this live on a television, and so I agree; they should have gotten back in the thing."
Randy Mergener: "The summer of 1969 was a summer of change. I had just graduated on June 13th (appropriately, the 13th happened to be a Friday). Even though I couldn't vote, I was now joining the ranks of the adults. Five days later I was in Grand Haven speaking to the Air Force recruiter. There was more than personal change happening that summer. The decade of change was coming to and end. And humans were about to land on another world.
I can't remember if I watched the launch of Apollo 11, but I do recall the day they landed. I was at home that Sunday afternoon. My recollection of the day was that of a typical summer day: warm if not hot with the sun shining brightly. My brother and I sat staring at the images of our parents' 23-inch black and white television (yes, there was a time when people did not have color television). After they landed, the newscaster said that Armstrong and Aldrin would remain in the lander and sleep for a few hours. I felt disappointed that they were not going out immediately. I recall telling Rick that there was no way I would sleep if I were there. Fortunately, they departed the lander earlier than planned. I believe that they could not sleep. I will never forget that ghostly grey image of Neil Armstrong's slow decent to the surface; leaving the first human footprints on another world.
Thinking back, it was one of the few times that I sat spellbound by a news event when no one was killed or mass destruction had occurred. This was one of the few bright spots in the so-called decade of love and peace."
James S. Foerch: "When the first humans landed on the moon, I was driving down to Indiana to visit a college friend. While the astronauts separated frEagle from the command module and descended to the lunar surface, I was getting lost in a pouring, blinding, driving, raging thunderstorm in the Indiana outback.
Just as Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder and uttered the famous line about footsteps and leaps, I drove down a dip in the road and skidded to a halt with my front bumper in the rushing waters of a flooded creek which had just taken the bridge out.
My successful ascent from the flood foreshadowed the astronauts' triumphant return to Earth.
Epilogue: I eventually found my friend's house and had a great visit.
David L. DeBruyn: "Am I on? What do I talk into?" [Laughs] "You know, the Apollo landing goes along with other rather significant events. I know exactly were I was when President Kennedy was shot and I know exactly were I was when certain other important events in history took place. And I can remember this almost like it was yesterday, I really can. The entire Planetarium staff was having breakfast over at my house on the day of the launch in the early morning hours. I think the Molars were there and the Thompsons were assistants at the time. Of course we all followed carefully the approach to the moon. Then, when the actual landing occurred, which was on Sunday afternoon on the 20th, I remember being at my parent's home in Muskegon because we just happened to have a family gathering planned for that day with Aunts and Uncles and I felt I had to go to that, but I was always running aside to look at the TV. They were getting into it too although not as much as I was. So I kind of shared that with various family members when the actual landing occurred. I remember watching Walter Cronkite and how emotional he was- he was almost in tears. It was such a dream, and I think that's the thing for people like me and others who were older, it was so much a dream that came true. Whereas the youngsters of today who have grown up with that, and were born after the landing on the moon, would be more blasť about it. It was almost like fantasy. It was hard to believe it was true. It looked like it was staged; in fact there's still some people who think the whole thing was staged."
David Cox: "I know exactly where I was. We had a party planned. We went to a friend's house and watched television, and we saw the live landing. It was quite a thrill. For me, it was something else again, because astronomy was my big problem when I was a young man, and instead of studying in college I built a telescope and did some astronomy work.
The landing was anticipated and the excitement was unbelievable. NASA, of course, was one of the finest organizations in the whole country because of Kennedy's goal at the end of the sixties decade. He said, 'Let's get there before the end,' and they did it in 1969. I was quite impressed with the whole thing.
They had some preliminary landing devices that took pictures of the moon. My father wanted to see pictures close up of the moon. Apollo 11 was the first.
My goal is to see the twenty-five year gap. They said they won't go to the moon again for twenty-five years, the last one was seventy-two, so about 1997 if they're right, they should go back." (Editor's Note: Obviously this didn't happen. More's the pity).
Terry Hunefeld: "This is the kind of thing you have to formulate your thoughts on. Apollo 11 doesn't spring immediately to mind, you have to think back to that day.
I was living in a bachelor pad on Lake Drive with five other guys, and we were into partying; drinking beer, and trying to get girls to come over to the house. It was a hot, July night, we knew they were there but our minds were so full of other things. But when it came time for them to land, everybody was talking about it, so we went next door to our landlady's where they had a big color television. We were sitting in her living room watching those historic moments."
James W. Ashley: "I was 5 years old, going on 6, but I can remember watching every step of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Spurred on by my father's deep appreciation and respect for space exploration, I was very much interested in 'outer space' at that time and still regard, even as I did then, the Apollo 11 landing as the most significant event of my personal life. I had Apollo posters and Lick Observatory photographs hung on my door and my walls. It was a very big deal for me and I thought everyone else felt the same way when I was 5. The actual landing is fuzzy to my recollection, but I can remember waiting impatiently for the actual first step after the LEM had landed. I was glued to the set. I never thought of the moon the same way afterwards. My favorite movie - 2001: A Space Odyssey - was released later that year and I can remember watching the movie (without the foggiest notion of what was actually happening as a plot) at the Eastbrook theatre. I can remember comparing what I saw in the film --of commonplace trips to the moon and scientists constantly expanding their networks of exploration-- with what I had seen on television a few months earlier, and thinking that such events would naturally and quite obviously happen in my lifetime. How naive I was, and how disappointed I am today that our national enthusiasm died after we 'won the race,' against the Russians. Such misplaced devotion. Such sad ignorance."
Kevin S. Jung: "Although still fairly young at the time, the Apollo 11 mission is still quite memorable. I had followed all of the Apollo missions, my father getting me up at strange times to see launches, spacewalks, etc.
There are a few vivid memories. One of them was just prior to launch. As they showed pictures of the Apollo launch vehicle in the twilight, the thin crescent moon was visible above the escape tower of the Saturn V. At the time, I thought that was one of the most beautiful things I had seen.
As the Eagle approached the lunar surface, I can still remember the dust being thrown up by the descent engine, and the shadow of the LM landing leg in the camera field. We held our breath as we heard 'Contact Light,' and then a great cheer went up when we heard 'Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.'
When it was learned that there was going to be an interminable wait (well, for a bunch of little kids, it was) for the astronauts to egress from the LM, our parents (my family was staying with my Aunt & Uncle) made us (the kids) go to sleep for a while. I remember being threatened that if we didn't sleep, we wouldn't get to see the astronauts step on the moon.
Well, after a few hours, Armstrong finally stepped off of the lander-leg pad and said those famous words that we are all familiar with today. I remember that the reception was not very good, and their voices kept fading in and out. The picture quality was not very good either. After Aldrin came down and started working on the lunar surface, us children were packed off to bed, but we could still hear our parents awed voices as they continued to watch the spectacle unfolding from the moon.
Editor's Note: In getting this ready for the 30th Anniversary, and knowing that it would be online, I posted a message on the astronomy newsgroup sci.astro.amateur asking the people there if they would like to contribute their own memories of this event. Here they are for your reading enjoyment....
Allan Mayer: Well... I for one remember it. I was only eight, and remember sitting in the living room, with my mother and brother, staring at it on the B&W TV. Father was up in New York, getting ready to move us all up there, but my mother was the one who really got me (us) interested. I remember feeling totally in awe at the fact that other people were actually going, and landing on, the moon. Totally awestruck. I used to go out and look at the moon, and imagine me being there someday. Just the fact that 12 people actually landed there impresses me to this day!!
We watched the lift off, and when the landing took place, Mom was the one who reminded us to come watch it. Mom was very much interested is anything to do with space, and always took time to catch any "happenings" in the papers, etc., and inform us. Shortly after the moon landing, we moved up to New York. from our home in Virginia. After getting there, that winter I got a 4" (I guess) Newtonian telescope. Will never forget seeing Jupiter for the first time, must have been -10 below zero. Mom came out to see it, and enjoyed it as much as I did.
The moon landing was probably the thing that got me interested in Astronomy.
Just an aside...
My mother was also the one who when I didn't have enough to buy a C 8 back in 1981, lent me the extra $500 to get it. She never missed a chance to come out and look through it!!! I used it for a few years, but then fell out of observing for a LONG while.
My mother passed away last fall, and I don't know what happened, but shortly thereafter, I found myself taking the telescope out a few times. Now, I'm REALLY hooked, and actually spending more and more time using it than ever before!! (and more, and more $$!!) Thanks Mom !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bill McCall: I have a lot of memories, but one is more humorous than most. (I was 10 years old) We were watching Neil's first walk on ABC TV, still a young network at the time and listening to Frank Reynolds. It was moments before the door of the LEM opened and Frank said something to the fact that while we were pretty sure there was no life on the moon but if there was they must be thinking, "What on Earth is going on here?" He then paused and said, "While I guess they would think, what on the moon is going on here!" For some reason that one moment has stuck with me.
(More information on the Apollo (and all other) missions can be found at the Kennedy Space Center website. The direct link to the Apollo 11 mission is www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/history/apollo/apollo-11/apollo-11.htm).
Below is an image of the plaque that the astronauts brought with them to the moon, which was attached to the LM landing strut.