“Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a Jupiter and Mars”
The street was largely quiet. Thoughts of paling around the neighborhood were set aside. Like many others, we were glued to the TV set for a singular, momentous event – the lunar landing. The feeling was palpable.
Apollo 11 had arrived the day before. The astronauts were definitely busy, making sure everything was ready. Checklists reviewed, equipment readied and checked. Once, twice, and probably again.
We had read about the mission many times over.
We “knew” the crew. Neil Armstrong, mission commander. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Lunar Module pilot. Michael Collins, Command Module pilot. Among the best of astronauts. Professional and steady. Calm and cool under pressure. All veterans of manned spaceflight, the second all-veteran crew in history.
Then, it began. The descent and landing. We had an inkling of the extensiveness and thoroughness of the preparations and the hundreds of hours of training ahead of the mission. It was off-the-charts risk taking. It had an excitement level of the nth degree. It truly fired the imagination for those of us growing up at the time. Study hard, work hard and cultivate the astronaut-like skills of professionalism, intelligence and steadiness, that could be us in the future. Taking those small steps outward into the whole new frontier of space.
We watched, we listened, in the last minutes before the landing, the speed and altitude callouts by Armstrong and Aldrin. Then, Mission Control indicated Lunar Contact was achieved. A few tense moments passed before the iconic words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Though tired, Armstrong and Aldrin were likely excited, probably more than any of us on Earth. They had asked about advancing their walk ahead in the schedule, saying it would be hard to take the planned two-hour nap. Instead of walking in the wee hours of the night for America, Armstrong and Aldrin also said moving the walk ahead would allow most of America to watch it live. The planned nap was cancelled. The wait to see the walk seemed to last forever. Finally, it came. The not-too-clear, B&W live feed from the Moon. Though Armstrong was still descending the ladder, the camera image of the Lunar Module’s leg was a big wow. Bigger yet, seeing Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. Then, seeing Aldrin step onto the surface.
We stayed up late, even listening to the half-speech by President Nixon congratulating Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of their success, and the realization of the goal set forth by President Kennedy.
The landing and walk inspired many. Ginny, my sister, was already intrigued with math and physics. It motivated her more to pursue that as her course of studies in college. It also led her to apply to NASA as a mission-specialist astronaut in the late 1970s. She scored that all-important first interview. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to the next round. My direction was a bit different with the chemistry degrees and the military life, but the inspiration was there. It proved anything, and everything, is possible.
While much has changed in the intervening years, the Apollo 11 mission, and those that followed, accomplished the pinnacle of spaceflight. It was a bit of derring-do. But, it was also a dedication and a determination to fulfill what was long considered a nearly impossible dream. It is what America does best – “we do things because they are not easy, we do things because they are hard.”
- A video of 3-D imaging performed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the Apollo 11 landing site. Please watch here.
- A video of the MAVEN survey mission to Mars. Please watch here.
About the photos -
The Life “Special Issue” magazine on the Apollo 11 mission is my own. The photos of two articles found inside was the first time the magazine had been opened in nearly 44 years. The magazine has a few creases from when it was sent by mail.
The back cover of the magazine: