Saturday, July 20, 2013

44 years ago today

It was on this day in 1969 when we first landed a man on the moon.  Here's my account of that monumental event from my book THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s) available here for a ridiculously low price.   Even more amazing than a human being walking on the moon is how I can sell the Kindle version so cheap. 
There was even more reason to feel pride at 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. This was even bigger than “The History of Rock n’ Roll.”

As when JFK was assassinated, everybody remembers where they were at this moment. I watched at home in Woodland Hills with my family and grandparents. Taxi actress, Marilu Henner was busy losing her virginity standing up in the shower.

Americans had become used to space coverage in the ’60s. 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. Still, the first time I saw a grainy astronaut let go of an apple and it remained suspended in mid-air I was enthralled. Forget action movies and spectacular stunts. Here was an apple bobbing up and down in outer space. That trick still kills me.

What I do know is this: 450 million people around the world watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. And they all saw 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 – “THIS is American Idol!”

Grampy Sid had tears in his eyes. He was a teenager when he first heard that some huckleberries in Dayton, Ohio 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 at the time. 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 in 1969 was really the Flintstones build a rocket ship. And we blasted three human beings into outer space in that thing. Yikes!

25 comments:

gottacook said...

I still have my photos of our big wooden console TV showing the landing; I was 12.

One of our family heirlooms is a Grumman internal manual from 1965 when my late father-in-law worked there, concerning in great detail the workings of the lunar landing module. It's amazing how much systems engineering had already taken place by then, 3 years before its first flight. The whole mission is timed to the second, as it had to be, and is graphically depicted in a foldout. (The manual apparently is now available to the public; see www.amazon.com/Lunar-Excursion-Module-Familiarization-Manual/dp/1935700669.)

AlaskaRay said...

I hear that they will soon be giving tours of the sound stage in Area 51 where they faked that landing.

Bruce Reznick said...

I remember the excitement of the moment well. It was the summer before I started college. You'd be surprised how many students at Caltech were inspired by the space program. There were so many bad things going on in 1968-1969, and this was one of the few good ones.

Breadbaker said...

The plaque they left ("We came in peace for all mankind") is signed by the three astronauts and Richard Nixon, who had nothing to do with it other than being president for the six months (to the day) before.

Portland Corey said...

It was pretty darn cool, wasn't it....

Hollywoodaholic said...

Unforgettable night. And we thought we'd be living like the Jetsons by now. Little did we know that the tenacity, teamwork and sacrifice of those original NASA engineers was the real right stuff that I doubt we could even duplicate today for any effort of that magnitude. I honestly don't think we could get back to the moon again today, sequester budget or not.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

gottacook: we told those photos, too - with a Polaroid!

wg

Tom Quigley said...

Here's how monumental that day was: The owner of the restaurant where I was working my summer job decided to close early because (1) after Armstrong and Aldrin landed, business was virtually nonexistent, and (2) the owner actually announced that he wanted to go home and watch the news coverage himself. For the first time in history, a restaurant owner actually had something on his mind other than his business. That day marked one small step for man, a giant leap for a Chef Salad...

Paul Duca said...

So...are you going to tell us when and where you lost YOUR virginity?

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I wasn't even close to being born, but my mother remembers it well.

Nevertheless, I always enjoy seeing NASA footage, and the constant activity involving Mission Control. Apollo 13 is still one of my favorite movies, for this very reason. The attention to detail. The proceedings, the care, the sheer size of the whole event.

In fact, Ken, if you haven't seen this before, here you go. It's astounding:

http://www.firstmenonthemoon.com/

I, for one, hope Mad Men doesn't shy away from depicting this event, on the final season, when it airs next year.

VP81955 said...

44 years since humans first set foot on the moon...and 40 years since we last did. In 1969, we thought that by 2013 we'd have established colonies there with at least a few hundred residents (and even some lunar-born babies), using the resources of this satellite planet to aid mankind. What happened?

Pamela Jaye said...

based on what my little brother (who was 4 at the time) tells me, my family (including him) was gathered around the TV. I was in Children's Hospital but we were watching there, too. I can still remember what side of the room the TV was mounted on... Not sure when I got to go home, but when I did, they were having aluminum siding put on the house.

I remember watching Star Trek: Enterprise years later and it was all about the wonder of being in space. I didn't get it. It wasn't a wonder to me. It had been going on all my life. It wasn't till later, watching JJ Pryor (American Dreams) coming up with a way to make the astronauts' gloves the right way, that I got the wonder.
Hmm.. wonder if that season made it to DVD...

but of course I remember where I was watching it, past my bedtime.

I also vaguely remember a TV show about cavemen and astronauts. I remember my teacher asking What are astronauts? and some kid in my class saying they were the guys who followed Jesus around. Oddly, I'd heard of astronauts, but not apostles...

Dbenson said...

I remember one of the networks illustrating the live audio transmissions with a model LEM on strings landing on a tabletop moon. It landed a bit early so they did a quick rewind to try and make it land concurrent with the announcement.

Also, one network commissioned Duke Ellington to write and perform something appropriate -- a song titled "Moon Maiden." Really a nice alternative to filling air with halfwit pundits speculating endlessly in absence of new information.

Mike said...

If the English had been in the Space Race, they'd have sent a man into space to check it was safe to send the dog.

olucy said...

And I remember the newspaper (remember them?) coverage the next day. The entire first section monopolized with articles and photos, with this tiny story on page whatever about Ted Kennedy driving his car off a bridge.

Ellen said...

It was my understanding that he actually said "One small step for A man" but that the spotty transmission blipped at that moment so no one heard it.

Either way, you're right about that extraordinary day. Thanks for another great post--your book sounds terrific.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

What's interesting to me is that the moon landings - as Ken points out, watched in real time by 450 million people - mark probably the pinnacle of mass media, too. The same year as the first men on the moon, 1969, was the year the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet, was switched on. Hardly anyone was paying attention to that, yet (as the sf writer Charlie Stross has written in an essay he has on his Web site about the future), it was the moment of crossover between the first half of the 20th century's belief in *transport* as the future and the latter half's focus on computing power and communications. The world was actually watching the culmination of the past, and the real future was starting in a few labs (in the US, France, and Britain), unnoticed.

wg

Alan Jean Shepard said...

Today, I don't know what is more amazing...there are so many people alive who were not around for that spectacular event, or, there's so many of your fans who still haven't read your book? The numbers are staggering!

Jeffro said...

I liked that when after Neil Armstrong announced the succesful landing with:

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

that Astronaut Charlie Duke, who was CAPCOM, got so excited (and relieved after the stress of the low fuel and computer overload alarms) that he pulled an Elmer Fudd, replying with:

"Roger, Twanquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

darmund said...

"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 in 1969 was really the Flintstones build a rocket ship."

Christ.

I loathe snotty, snobby "Oh lets look back in hindsight and point and laugh" kind of thinking.

Computers haven't gotten more sophisticated, they have simply become faster, smaller and cheaper. That doesn't equate with being more sophisticated.

As far as the technology regarding the actual space ships not being state of the art but rather archaic, GO AWAY. We're 44 years on and STILL using the same types of propulsion systems for ALL of our rockets, with NO changes or major innovations on the horizon.

The Saturn V rocket is one of the greatest technological creations in all of history, a machine created to take an enormous amount of weight, and thrust it into the air going faster and faster until it can achieve orbit.

Zach said...

Check out the Australian movie The Dish

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0205873/

DwWashburn said...

Was staying with my Uncle and Aunt outside St Louis on July 20, 1969. My uncle worked at McDonnell Douglas and had some input on the space launch. He was sworn to secrecy about his involvement . . . even his wife didn't know to what extent he was involved. But, boy, was he proud as he watched the landing.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother had the same reaction as your Uncle.
She came here from Russia in her teens.
She sat there in awe with tears in her eyes.

Irving said...

This is fantastic!

Sooke said...

I watched the landing in a hotel lobby in Miami Beach. There were no TVs in the rooms. My mother got a good deal on a Florida vacation in July. The bus trip from Canada felt like a trip to the moon.