Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the anniversary of Man landing on the moon...

Here's another taste of the book I'm writing on growing up in the 60s. It's July of 69. This is an event so monumental CBS pre-empted GREEN ACRES for it.

There was even more reason to feel pride about being an American later that summer. We landed a man on the moon. Even Walter Cronkite choked up on CBS reporting it. The weekend of July 20th the entire nation was glued to their televisions. President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 that we would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade was about to take place.

I watched at home in Woodland Hills with my family and grandparents. Americans had become used to space coverage. There was really nothing to see. Shots of Mission Control in Houston, maps, and anchors at desks. We would hear the communication between Houston and the astronauts. By the Apollo missions we sometimes got to see live fuzzy video of the crew, usually only for a few seconds. But an astronaut would always let go of an apple or hammer and you’d see it float in weightlessness. This trick killed us every time.

I honestly don’t remember whether we saw video or just heard audio when Neil Armstrong made his historic first step. You’d think that would be indelibly imprinted in my brain but it’s not. I’ve seen the video so many times since but that first time – I just can’t tell ya.

What I do know is this: 450 million people around the world heard it. And they heard it at the same time. For the first time in history the entire planet shared a monumental moment together. A moment of awe and disbelief. All the hardships of the world, the various wars, famines, poverty, social injustice, discrimination -- they were all put on hold, as if God pushed a pause button. What was more profound – man setting foot on the moon or that moment of absolute global unity?

And Neil Armstrong – what a great line to mark the occasion: “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He wanted to say “one small step for A man” but inadvertently left out the A. It does sorta make more sense that way. But still, as a memorable line it sure has more punch than today’s equivalent – “THIS is American Idol!”

My grandfather had tears in his eyes. He was a teenager when he first heard that some huckleberries in Iowa invented a contraption that actually flew in the air. And to go from that to a man landing on the moon all in his lifetime was completely overwhelming.

And it’s an even greater accomplishment than we realized. The more sophisticated our computers have become the more we’ve begun to appreciate just how rudimentary and archaic the data and technology was back then. What we thought was state-of-the-art back in 1969 was really the Flintstones build a rocket ship. And we blasted three human beings into outer space in that thing. Yikes!

36 comments:

Fitz said...

For anyone of our generation the moon landing and the JFK assassination are the two events that transport you back to whatever you were doing.

For the record, I was in the Navy Electronics Training Center in Memphis buffing the barracks floor. The bosun and I stood together and watched, probably the only time he ever acknowledged my presence.

I don't usually dwell in the past but that was one of our finest hours. Unfortunate that to most alive today it is a footnote to history.

Dan Serafini said...

It was also the day that Marylou Henner lost her virginity. In the shower.

bettyd said...

I recall being together in 5th grade to watch the splash down. It was amazing. I went to NASA last year, and it was pretty overwhelming to me there too.

I always wondered if Neil made up the line, or a PR person gave it to him. It is great, regardless.

Mary Stella said...

I was at summer camp on the day of the moon landing. They stopped the activities and gathered all of us together in the dining hall and put the smallish tv up high so we could all watch.

The Curmudgeon said...

Wonderful as always, but I'm afraid I must leave a note: The Wright Brothers were from Dayton, Ohio, not Iowa. It kind of spoils Grandpa's moment....

Ed Blonski said...

With all the advances we've made in space exploration and technology since the 1960's, we've finally realized that it is nearly impossible to land a man on the moon.

NOT knowing that in the 1960's, I think, is one of the main reasons that it was actually done.

Tom said...

If you were watching Uncle Walter, then you saw video. We were, and there was.

Tod Hunter said...

I was working at the McDonald's on Sherman Way near Wilbur. Somebody had shagged in a big black-and-white TV and put it on the counter, facing in.

It was one of those vintage '50s McDonald's that was totally glassed in.

McDonald's was cashing in on the Moon mission by giving away free maps of the Moon with purchase, so the place was hopping. The map was from the National Geographic Society and was really detailed.

Everything stopped for a few seconds as Neil Armstrong stepped off the LEM, then we went back to work.

YEKIMI said...

I lived in Florida when the moon landing happened. I can remember running out during the night and looking up at the moon hoping I could see the astronauts walking around. Hey, I was only 11! I lived on the West Coast of Florida and I know that one of the Apollo launches was sent to the west and we got to leave the classroom and we could see the rocket way, way up there through all the hazy clouds.

Tom Quigley said...

RE: Whether Neil Armstrong's historic words were spoken as we watched him step onto the moon's surface, here is the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDywN2-V84o

He had already released the camera from a compartment on the side of the base of the LEM while he was still on the stepladder.

I was working at local restaurant near my house that day and by 6:00pm EDT, the place was virtually empty, since they had already landed a couple of hours earlier... So the owner, in an unprecedented decision (for him) decided to close early, saying "I want to get home and see this myself." As I recall, the walk on the moon happened shortly after 10:00pm.

What an historic four-week period for this country! Woodstock followed in mid-August, and you could say that the two events essentially symbolized what kind of divergent paths our country had been heading down during that decade.

D T said...

What Tom Quigley said, about the camera in the compartment on the side of the LEM. As I recall, after the compartment deployed, the picture was upside down at first, and had to be adjusted (electronically, on earth) to be right side up.

There was no video of the landing, of course, just audio, with the listeners trying to figure out what was happening from the arcane transmissions. Like most Americans, I was NOT watching CBS and Walter Cronkite, I was watching Frank McGee on NBC ("brought to you by Gulf Oil, at the sign of the orange disk"). McGee had the good sense to not talk over the audio, but I have seen the recordings of Cronkite, and he talked over a lot of the audio, WAY too much.

(Except for the iconoclast across the street who watched ABC News, everybody I knew in those days watched NBC News, Huntley-Brinkley for the evening news, and Frank McGee for the space coverage. Cronkite was like Hydrox cookies; you knew there must be SOMEbody who ate them instead of Oreos, but you didn't know who those people were, and nobody was admitting it. It was only after Huntley retired and NBC lost its way that Cronkite became, for a few years, what people think Cronkite was.)

steve macdonald said...

The last paragraph holds the key point for me.

As reliant as we are today on computers, it’s amazing to think that we sent those guys all the way to the moon, landed them, then brought them back using less computer power than you can find today controlling the stoplights at an intersection. Amazing.

Mike Barer said...

I enjoyed your recount.

Anonymous said...

if you actually think about this for just a little while, you will see how utterly preposterous this whole idea really is.

never happened.

sorry.

Gary said...

Interesting recollections and a bonus trashing of Cronkite! Where else could we get THAT insight! Were there some Iowa huckleberries on the flight-line, too? So your grandpa likely saw the invention of the automobile as well as airplane flight and the moon landing. He saw a lot! I'm not sure, but I think I heard that there's more computer power in most cell phones now that what was aboard most space flights of the Mercury and Apollo programs. Interesting stuff, maybe Cliff Claven would utter such trivia and make it seem real. I too recall seeing the video of the moon landing and thinking how incredible it was and also thinking for just a moment, what if that buggie won't start when they need to get back to the space capsule? I'd just brought our daughter home from the hospital on that day and we all laid across the bed and watched Neil Armstrong's descent. My daughter claims to have no memory of the event, tho she was 5 days old! Like others from the same era, I recall the loss of JFK; the loss of RFK; the loss of MLK. If my last name began with K, I would have changed it by 1969. I remember too, a pink, Brannif Airlines Boeing 707 jet banking high above the Golden Gate Bridge in the late afternoon sun on Dec. 1, 1967, bring me and a 100 other men back to the world. California never looked so good to me, and it sure hasn't since. And my baseball memory - well, there are 2: The M's one-game playoff win over the Angels in 95 when Luis Sojo cleared the bases with a dribbler down the first base line that got lost under the bullpen bench, and hearing Rick Rizzs going crazy on the air, finally shouting EVERYBODY SCORES, including Sojo. It became known as the grand slam double. Finally, Edgar Martinez's double down the left field line in game 5 vs. the Yankees, scoring Joey Cora with the tying run, and seeing Ken Griffey, Jr. flying around the bases, scoring from first to win the game and put Seattle in the ALCS. I can still picture Griffey's smile at the bottom of the pile near home plate. Well, there went a lot of space! space.

Rockgolf said...

Betty, if you were watching with your 5th grade class, you must have been in summer school. It was July after all. Sure you weren't thinking of another splashdown?

And yes, I remember that interview with Marilu Henner. She claimed she had an eidetic memory on dates and could say what she was doing on any given date. The interviewer, (Bob Costas?) picked the date of the moon landing. Either Henner was telling the truth or she's a better actress than Streep, because she went into full embarassed blush mode before explaining.

I'm surprised no one in this group has recommended the Australian film "The Dish", which was about a radar station Down Under that was picking up the signal and broadcasting it worldwide.

The part that hit so true for me was the 10 year old boy who knew encyclopaedic detail about the mission and the father who relied on him for info.

Also, there's a version of the American National anthem that will have you laugh till the tears run down your face.

Netflix it. Now.

WV: joyar Joy Behar attempts a J-Lo style nickname.

brickben said...

Anonymous, the thought that the moon landing was fabricated would require a complicit and willing media to pull such a hoax off. Why that would be like today's top journalists plotting to discredit a story that would be damaging to their candidate of choice. Never in a million years...

Ed H. said...

brickben: Don't fee the trolls.

VAXHeadroom said...

If the moon landing was a hoax, the Russians would have called us on it. For a great time-sink go look at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal at history(dot)nasa(dot)gov(slash)alsj
(sorry, links aren't allowed, you'll have to hand-convert)
All the transcripts, maps, pictures, procedures, videos etc are all there and hyper-linked. An amazing resource that far too few are aware exists.

Follow me on Twiter @VAXHeadroom

Emory Stagmer

LCROSS Flight Software Lead Engineer

Yobeb said...

When talking about landing on the moon were taking back to the that american flag waving for being the great.

Luna said...

To VAX---Thanx for the Lunar Link--it is wonderful!

Whether it's fiction, or non-fiction....;)

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Eerie day for me. Went with a friend to his parent's house to watch the landing. Less than an hour before it was going to happen their power went out. My friend and I ran outside and up the street as though we knew where we were going and could do something once we got there. After a while we went back. The power was on. We took full credit for it, of course.

gottacook said...

I was studying for my bar mitzvah that summer and still have my black-and-white Polaroids of our TV set showing the landing. As SF author David Brin wrote a few years ago, "The Lunar Module (LEM) was one of the finest things ever produced by Man. It worked perfectly, every time. And for 100,000 years, people will look at it and shudder and say 'there were once men brave enough to step into THAT?' "

Although I never met him, my wife's late father was a Grumman employee at its Long Island, NY facility in the mid-1960s, working on human factors in the design of the LEM. We have here in our house a fantastic Grumman looseleaf book from his time there, the "Lunar Excursion Module Familiarization Manual" dated 15 October 1965. A later version of this (http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19730060786_1973060786.pdf) includes a wonderful pictorial condensation of the whole planned mission, timed to the second (pp. 12-17, originally a foldout); there is also a wealth of technical data, circuit diagrams, etc. (A scan of the cover art can be seen at www.footnote.com/spotlight/10095/lem_lunar_excursion_module.)

Mr. Hollywood said...

I am thankful that I grew up in a time when we still had heroes. And those astronauts were Heroes. To sit on top of a rocket filled with god knows how many gallons of jet fuel .. and then go where no man had gone before ... GUTS!
Sad that kids today have sports stars or mediocre American Idol singers as their heroes.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

"The moonwalk was fake. Rasslin' is REAL!"

- Lewis Grizzard's grandma

Frank Anthony said...

Good luck Mr.Gorsky.

Paul Duca said...

D.T.--I read something in a book about TV news, that said in the late 1960s, Cronkite's newscast would beat Huntley and Brinkley during the summer months, then fall back to second when autumn arrived-it happened several years in a row. Some wag attributed that to the idea many typical Huntley=Brinkley viewers were out on their yachts.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was listening to a local TV anchor talk about how people hate it when their shows are pre-empted. Were there protesters from the Green Acres contingent?

Mark said...

I was 13 that summer. Great time to be a kid. My grandparents were visiting. Grandpa was a teen when the Wright Brother's flew, and he went to bed before the moon walk. Grandma stayed up for the first step, then went to bed.

Hard to imagine a childhood without a space race. I was four when Shepherd flew and 13 when they landed on the moon.

Ed D. said...

I seem to recall that on the later flights they still used an older computer with old magnetic cores in it... those little washer shaped things with wires through them... each one a 'bit'. The purpose was backup and all they had on them was the 'git me home' data. If all other computers failed, these would still work. I think perhaps they were impervious to electro magnetic interference or pulse. Don't know if the shuttle still does that or not.

Ref said...

Nice piece, Ken. I got a tear in my eye reading about your Granddad, and remembering my own.

D. McEwan said...

It was a completely unique moment in history. People (like may dad. We're comnig to that) kept compatring it to Columbus, but that isn't accurate. There were already humans in America. This was the first time any life form evolved on earth set foot (or psuedopod) on a celestial body other than the earth. Never again will it be the first time either, so it will always be a completely unique moment.

I, like you, was 19. I was watching Cronkite (The joke was Cornkite would be waiting on the moon, to interview Neal when he arrived.) with my parents, siblings, and my Uncle Duncan and Aunt Grace. Everyone was gathered at the TV, except Mother, who was in the kitchen preparing a large meal for us, oblivious to the world-shaking event. (Firm in her Christian Science delusions, she "knew" all reality was just an illusion anyway. Nothing real is real. Only that which is not real is real.)

Well, during the period between the actual landing, and Neal emerging from the capsule (for those of you younger than 41, those two events were separated by a couple hours.), Mother decided she needed more milk for dinner for us, so she "asked" (ie. "ordered") my dad to go to the store and buy some milk. Dad refused. An argument that quickly escalated to screaming ensued. (This was a normal, every day occurance. My family never hit. We just yelled.) Eventually Dad caved in. (Dad ALWAYS caved in. Dad was so whipped.)

I can never think of the first moon landing without remembering my dad going out the front door shouting: "Tell Columbus I cuoldn't meet the boat. Iris had to have some milk!" and slamming the door.

He was back before Neal emerged.

After the big moment, I remember stepping outside and looking up at the moon above, and trying to wrap my head around the fact that there were human beings there, that I was looking up at people. I cried.

It wasn't just that President Kennedy's promise had been fulfilled; it was that all the science fiction movies were going to come true. Vulcans would be arriving next week.

Later, meeting Buzz Aldrin (In 1974, before he became the TV buffoon he's been lately) was about as exciting as Life could get. I was shaking a hand that had been on the moon.

Wow.

Joey H said...

I got to meet Neil Armstrong a few years ago. He is an uncle to a friend of mine and he came to my friend's wedding. Nice guy, quite reserved.

I was 14 when the landing took place...and watching Cronkite like most others. But the space geek in me was secretly wondering what ABC Science Editor Jules Bergman was saying at the time.

WV: umparedi -- a baseball official who's had too much barolo

chalmers said...

"It was also the day that Marylou Henner lost her virginity. In the shower."

When she relayed this story to Bob Costas on "Later," he delivered the great ad-lib: "Well, we know it wasn't Neil Armstrong."

I never plan to watch it, but everytime I'm flipping around and see "The Dish" is on, I can't stop. I'm not sure if it's entirely historically accurate, but it's funny and sweet, and Patrick "Puddy" Warburton is just right as the officious NASA rep.

PatGLex said...

I was 16 at the time, and I remember watching the TV at 2 in the morning with my dad, for sure, and maybe my mother. (Or not -- she had a 3-year-old in the house, my accidental baby sister.)

I wondered, when reading your entry, what the same event would be like today -- the flood of political opponents carping about the cost, screwed priorities of the administration, anti-space bloggers misrepresenting, etc. etc.

D T said...

PatGLex may have forgotten, but there WERE "political opponents carping about the cost, screwed priorities of the administration," et cetera. "Why are we spending all this money to get to the moon when we have [insert social problem] here on earth?" was commonly heard. Then-Senator Walter Mondale was one of the leading carpers, as I recall, as were the leaders of the civil rights movement.

And, the Nixon Administration and NASA listened, and cut out the last eight planned moon landings, and ended planning for manned missions to Mars, and changed NASA's focus to the earth-centric Skylab and Space Shuttle.

You can read about it here:
http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4221/ch4.htm