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!