Saturday, July 11, 2009
This Thursday will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission launch. The journey that followed for astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, became one of the most viewed television events of all time, as people from every nation turned to the small screen to see history being made.
I was a geeky little kid with blue glasses when my Dad stuffed us into the family station wagon and drove from NY to Florida to see the launch in person. We woke up before dawn on July 16th and drove as far down the beach as possible, to get closer to Cape Canaveral. I remember thinking how strange it was to see what was normally a deserted beach just covered with thousands of cars and people. We all had transistor radios so we could hear the launch countdown. Ours was a lime green Panasonic Ball and Chain model. Even though the crowd on that beach was huge, you could have heard a pin drop when Apollo 11 lifted off, on that bright July morning in 1969. Look at the fantastic NASA slow motion video posted above and you'll get a sense of the wonder reflected in the faces of the people lucky enough to witness this moment in person. See that fiery glowing rocket in the corner of the sky? That's humanity going to a different world for the first time. Heavenly.
Central Florida around the time of the Apollo 11 mission had "space fever". Half the buildings in the state looked like they were designed by the animators from The Jetsons. You could buy moon pies at the 7-11 and Blast Off cocktails at the beach side restaurants. We even had a beach ball colored to look like the surface of the moon. Here's a picture of it deflated, and being worn like a hat by our dog King.
I had space fever too after the launch, and would run from the beach back to our hotel room to watch the news coverage on a little black and white TV. On July 20, 1969, I sat with my sisters and parents while we watched the Eagle detach and then descend to the surface of the moon. We were part of the largest TV audience ever at that time. It was estimated that over 500 million people around the world watched the Apollo 11 moon landing. Below you'll see an excellent video depicting that moment. Be sure to watch all the way to the end, because there's a wonderful montage of folks from around the world, eyes wide and mouths agape, as Neil Armstrong makes the most famous step in history. I'm amazed that he came up with the line "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" on his way to the moon. Nice to think that not every great quote is from a ghost writer or PR agent.
As we remember the glorious and successful Apollo 11 mission, we actually have a modern day space flight to view tomorrow at 7PM eastern time. If all goes well, the much delayed STS-127 Endeavor mission to install new equipment on the space station will finally launch. Visit the NASA website to learn more or to watch the launch in streaming video.
Both Discovery and History channel websites also have plenty on Apollo 11. And History will be airing an Apollo 11 special on Modern Marvels, July 18th at 1pm.
There is not much to feel cheerful about these days, with millions of people out of work and the economy doing a nose dive. I think we need another shot of hope like that moment when JFK swore that the USA would land a man on the moon before the next decade. We did it then and we can do it again. So...note to President Obama: Please throw a little of that stimulus money over to NASA and we can make the next stop Mars!