Saturday, July 18, 2009

Apollo 11: "We came in peace"

20 July 1969. That day is one of those historical days that we all look back on and ask "where were you?" I remember where I was as man walked on the moon for the first time.

When Neil Armstrong made the famous statement "One small step for man. One giant step for mankind," I was living in London, England. Shaftesbury Theatre had Hair, and I worked there in the evenings. I was a young know-it-all teenager, who was too ignorant to realise that I knew less than nothing. The arrogance of youth!!! However, usually after a long day, it would be bedtime for me, but that night I stayed up. It seems that 550 million people worldwide joined me, as I sat glued to the tiny black and white television we had in our small Islington flat.

BBC has a very cool video showing people around the world watching in awe. I have no idea how to download it so go here. Incredible footage.

20 July 1969 we all witnessed the fruition of John F Kennedy's dream - his pledge - that America would have a man on the moon before the decade was out.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win . . . ”
--President John F. Kennedy, address at Rice University, September 12, 1962 (JFK Library)(source)

NASA of course has terrific coverage of this 40th anniversary of the real (lol) moon walk, including an interactive page where you can access all sorts of stuff. If you go here, you can click on "transcript" and read the interaction of the Americans on the moon, as well as listen to the audio, by clicking on the screen. And you really must go to THIS page, and check it out.

"Aldrin: Beautiful view.
Armstrong: Isn't that something! Magnificant sight out there!
Aldrin: Magnificant desolation." (NASA here)

Very cool!

This past week NASA announced that they are working on the original video to improve the quality. I read somewhere that the original video recording that NASA had was probably taped over, so they did a worldwide search and found tapes in other countries. Neat NASA picture here. However, the ubiquitous YouTube does has a video up:

On the BBC page "This Day in History", they have a compilation of memories that readers sent in from around the world. So interesting to see what people remember:
I was 12 years old in 1969.

Here in Australia, the Moonwalk happened at lunchtime - and we were privileged to see better pictures than the rest of the world.

That's because the TV of Neil Armstrong's first step came through the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station near Canberra. Several minutes into the Moonwalk, even better TV was also available from the larger Parkes Radio Telescope...

Colin Mackellar, Sydney, Australia...

John Saxon (left) and Deputy Controller Mike Dinn (right) at the console
The Honeysuckle Creek tracking station in Australia picked up the first images

I was lucky enough to be sitting on the control console at the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station near Canberra in Australia on the 21st July 1969 (yes it was the 21st here)....

Born in NW London I emigrated to Australia in 1966 specially to take part in Apollo and manned and un-manned missions.

I worked the Console as Operations Supervisor for all the Apollo missions, then Skylab and many other manned missions - the golden years of spaceflight, in my opinion.

We had a visit from the Australian prime minister on the day - otherwise the mission was similar to many of the simulations (without all the problems :-).

No time to worry that it was a bit of 20th century history - just that we didn't make too many mistakes. ...

John Saxon, Australia

I was in Karlsruhe,Germany on a school exchange trip.

There was much excitement about the landing and I was invited to sit with the family and all of their neighbours and friends who had come round to watch the event on their television.

They kept asking me to interpret what had been said and one gentleman repeatedly asked 'Was ist LEM?'

Unfortunately, I had no idea and my German was not up to the task of answering or explaining many of their questions.

I think the overriding emotions were of awe and trepidation....

An awesome event that I will never forget.
Peter Webb, UK

My wife and I sat up most of the night in Scotland to watch.

My daughter was then three months old, so we put her cot in front of the TV so that ever after she could say that she had been glued to the TV when it all happened.

I've since heard that we were not the only people to do that....

David Heal, Luxembourg

In California the landing occurred late in the evening, but I woke up my one-year-old daughter and held her in my arms while telling her the importance of that moment.
Urmas Kaldveer, USA

Just as Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar surface for the very first time, my mother was giving birth to me at that very moment!...

All in all, the 20th July 1969 was a small step for man, but a great step for me!
Rob Holmes, UK

I was seven years old, we lived in a high-rise building in San Juan Puerto Rico.

I kept racing between the TV and the balcony and looking at the moon to see if I could see them on the moon

I remember when it came over the television that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, my father said: " They should take the word can't out of the dictionary. If they can send a man to the moon and he can walk on it and return to Earth, there isn't anything we can't do."
Shirley Walker, USA

I was on a student tour of Europe and on this day we were in Switzerland.

We spent all day hiking up into the Alps.

When we reached the top it was evening.

We were all given lighted torches and we held them as we walked down the mountain....

As we continuned our journey down the mountain in the dark holding the torches, villagers came out and cheered the United States as we passed.

It felt great to be an American.
Linda Potter, USA

Although I was only 15 years old in 1969, I was aware that the Moon Landing was a truly historic moment - the first time that human beings had walked on another "world".

It also seemed to me an incredible technological achievement, so I was keen to see the moment when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

My family went to bed as usual - how could they not be excited too? - whilst I settled down for a night sleeping on the sofa, with an alarm clock set to wake me at the crucial time....

At that moment, I realised that, though watching alone in the north east of England, I belonged to the human race.
Kerry, UK

Later that evening we gathered around the television to watch a very grainy, black-and-white image -- I recall the image being upside down -- of the first steps upon the lunar surface by Astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Who says we cannot accomplish that which we put our minds to?
Chris Koceja, USA

That really is a wonderful collection of "ordinary" people around the world sharing what was a universal awe. ( Read them all here.) The 60's were tumultuous, turbulent times, especially in America. With the assassinations of JFK, MLK Jr, RFK; with military titans of America fighting a war - in Vietnam - which the media at home seemed determined to lose for them; those not serving, rioting at home. Dark days.

For one brief shining moment Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man. One giant step for mankind," united us all. From tiny villages in Scotland, to Puerto Rico, to big city America, to Islington, London, as man took that first courageous step onto another planet, we were all reminded, as Kerri above in north England said we "all belonged to the human race."

And me? In Islington, in the wee small hours of the morning, words from a song in Hair came to me:

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals..

On 20 July, 1969, the world stopped and watched John F Kennedy's dream become reality. On that night, 40 years ago, the man on the moon showed us all everything that IS noble, admirable about the human race. As the BBC reader Chris (USA) recognised: Who says we cannot accomplish that which we put our minds to?

On 20th July, 1969, the world believed. I believed. I still do.

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