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Memories of Apollo 11

It is with astonishment that I realize the first (Apollo 11) moon landing was 40 years ago (!) Monday.

Like most people “over a certain age,” I remember it well. With my family I was on a plane heading for a family vacation in Hawaii. The flight’s captain came on the loudspeaker, to announce that the Eagle had made a safe landing on the moon. The entire plane erupted in cheers and clapping, and then smiling flight attendants passed around complimentary champagne for the adults and soft drinks for the children, to toast the occasion.

Even more clearly do I recall when they came back. We were still in Hawaii when they splashed down and were picked up at sea. My father rousted me up at 5 a.m. to go see them come in. He put me up on his shoulders (I was 11) and worked close enough in the crowd to see Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, three very exuberant faces, peering from the window of their quarantine unit (I think it was silver in color.) My father caught Aldrin’s eye and waved, and Aldrin gave a thumbs-up back. Neither had ever set eyes on the other, to my knowledge, before that day or since. Everyone you looked at, you could exchange grins with, because everyone spoke the same language.

Much of the country, indeed the world, was on the same page then. Celebrating, exchanging thoughts or reflections, at least shaking their heads and grinning, that July 40 years ago. A moment when everyone was together. Maybe it was easier back then, but of course you can’t glorify an era based on one event: War raged in Vietnam, a chasm yawned between youth and the Establishment, cultural unrest fomented that resulted in the Kent State killings months later, racism was just beginning to be addressed through Johnson’s early civil rights work, every day there were the millions of private and unheard tragedies, the list goes on --- Today, little has changed except names: Now it’s Iraq, not Vietnam; generations, cultures and faiths still sort out how to relate; the core issues of racism still simmer; there is still rampant economic inequality and new, divisive and unresolved social, economic and health issues. That list goes on too.

But 40 years ago, a precedent for something different was set: Humanity could collectively look beyond itself --- quite a few hundred thousand miles beyond, to be exact! --- and see. Wasn’t it an astronaut who commented about looking at Earth from space, seeing the beauty, uniqueness and potentials of that little blue “marble” in space? If we look, and it isn’t hard, perspective and answers will reflect back.

I hate to say it, but just as everyone spoke the same language in July 1969, everyone spoke a similar language on Sept 11, 2001. Odd how it takes something big outside us, to remind us that we have the spark inside us, to connect with each other?

But to continue my spacing out (literally:) -- I awoke this morning to my radio alarm, playing an NPR interview with Buzz Aldrin. I smiled at the memory of him and my father, but then my attention was caught by what Aldrin was talking about: his new autobiographical book “Magnificent Desolation,” referring to both his impression of the lunar landscape and to the post-Apollo11 life he wrestled with: Where, after all, to go from being the second man on the moon? How to reconcile a life emptied of the precise, familiar structure of preparing for the moon? What to give life purpose and meaning afterward? Apparently he struggled with discouragement and uncertainty. Then I opened the newspaper and read an article in which Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins urged exploration to Mars, to underline humanity’s need to reach new vistas, conquer new frontiers, actualize itself.

And I thought, with all the time, energy and focus – not to mention money — needed for space travel, what about reaching out to another little-understood and little-traversed frontier: within? What about reaching for new vistas of individual and collective potential, compassion, actualization, positive action? Not to mention, fixing things on this planet before we move on to the next. A lot needs to be done, and can be done.

Of course we can’t step millions of miles back in our everyday world. But taking a moment to step back figuratively, at least reflect, can bring perspective. After all, we all share a little blue marble, whether it’s in an oceanside small town or a teeming city. We have plenty of fodder for division, plenty of reasons for discouragement. And an equal plenty of potential for small steps turned into giant leaps.


Comments

40 years ago, today; I laid on the barracks deck, at Naval Training Center, San Diego, listening to an old AM radio. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was scheduled to place his foot on the Moon. I remember the Summer of 1969 was hotter than any I experienced before or till now. The vinyl floor tile felt cool on my face.I can still hear fellow recruit's boondockers pacing the deck. Company 454 held their collective breath almost till we turned blue. When it was learned that Aldrin hit the bottom rung of the ladder, all hell broke loose and military discipline was out the window. A few days later, I turned eighteen.

When your'e living the history, you really don't see the significance until you back off a few decades. I had to take a deep breath, several times today. And it had nothing to do with the heat, today. I hope that I live long enough to see the next giant leap for mankind...to Mars.


Thank you, Stacy. This piece is beautifully written.


I also remember the refrain "...and whitey's on the moon." Forty years later, we have a Black president and haven't been back to the moon since Nixon pulled the plug on the space program and we drove the Soviets into financial collapse, which was really what the space program was all about.


Thank you for your beautiful, thoughtful commentary, Stacy.

I remember I was necking with my borfriend on his deck over the lake, while listening to the Beatles White Album, when his mother called from the window and told us to break it up and "come experience history in the making". I remember the tears welling up in my eyes as I listened to the radio, but I can't say for certain if it was because of their moonwalk or my own, so fallen in sweet sixteen love was I at the time.


Stacy.....Congratulations. This is a great article you wrote. I was in Vietnam then just trying to stay alive. Not many fond memories of that era, but landing on the moon certainly was one of them. I agree with your article....we've been to the Moon....been there; done that....lets look inward and take care of things on earth. I'm sure we will go to Mars, but it won't be the same thrill.


I was sitting in an airport in middle America, waiting for family members to arrive.

I clearly remember the first words spoken by man on the moon, "Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The eagle has landed."

Then there was some cornball crap.

BILLY BONES


Technically, the first words spoken by a man on the moon were from Buzz Aldrin: "Contact light! Okay, engine stop. ACA - out of detent"

Of course, Neil's words (both on landing - see above - and his first step on the moon's surface) were a tad more powerful.


If yours are accurate, I stand corrected.

The Big step, Little Step, Red Rover Come Over, Step on a crack..............was cornball.

BILLY BONES


If we quit, and just shut down NASA, or maybe just quit sending people into space, how will we really spend that 1% of the federal budget? How will we feel when someone else goes where we can't go anymore?


I was an Air Force weather observer working in the control tower at Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone. We also heard it on a rather poor AM radio since the Zone didn't have FM not to mention a network TV hookup. Still, it was pretty impressive.


Stacy, thank you for sharing your experience. It was a huge ordeal in our household for my father was on a small team of folks that designed the landing gear. With that being said I too will never ever forget


Saw the events, hazily, on an old b/w TV in the Grubstake, Crested Butte. Patrons divided their attention between the landing and Mraule's Polka Band.


I was 17, and saw it live on a small black & white t.v. set with my boyfriend Steve Neill, who later went on to become a special effects artist for Francis Ford Coppola & in Hollywood. Even then, Steve was almost obsessed with space travel and extraterrestrials. His room was filled with models of the lunar module and other spacecraft. He took me to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" a dozen times, so he was primed for this moment, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

For my part, I was still dealing with grief & shock from my 16-year-old sister's death 3 months earlier in a car crash, and very much needed an infusion of something positive. When Armstrong stepped onto the moon, we cheered, screamed, yelled, along with the rest of the neighborhood - country - parts of the world, and were filled with such awe and pride. This was the same moon that we had known all of our lives to be made of green cheese, the moon that the cow jumped over, the moon which had so many songs written about it.

The yearning to explore new vistas is a part of our country's history. With all of the terrible stuff that we had gone through(as you had touched on, Stacy)the war, assassinations, etc. - it was so uplifting to be witness to our species conquering a new land, where "no man had gone before"...especially one that we were otherwise so familiar with in every other way. If that is "cornball", then give me more of it - the kind of wonder and energy that no amount of cynicism can destroy.


In addition to the landing I remember the big ticker tape parade in down town Chicago that followed a shor time later. That parade was awesome


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