Some dates naturally carry more significance than others. Birthdays and anniversaries come to mind instantly. One such "anniversary" happened 45 years ago this Sunday. Those of you old enough to remember Sunday, July 20, 1969, no doubt can recall watching Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong descending the steps of the lunar module’s ladder and setting foot on the Moon for the first time. I was mesmerized by what I saw that night on the black-and-white Zenith television set in our living room.
Apollo 11, the fifth human spaceflight of the Apollo program, launched from the Kennedy Space Center four days earlier. As a young child of 10, watching the late Armstrong walk on the lunar surface was probably the most significant news event of my youth. I can still remember the late Walter Cronkite on CBS television describing the landing, and the bundle of nerves I felt for myself and the Apollo astronauts, Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.
I was fascinated by the space program in the 1960s. Naturally, I couldn’t wait for the landing of Apollo on the Moon. As I recall, while on the far side of the Moon, the lunar module, called the Eagle, separated from the Command Module, named Columbia. Collins remained alone in Columbia, while Armstrong and Aldrin used Eagle’s descent engine to right themselves and descend to the lunar surface. The wait seemed interminable for this youngster, who couldn’t believe that we would actually see LIVE images from the Moon later that night.
I kept asking questions of my Mom and Dad all day and evening. “What will it look like on television?” “When will the astronauts climb out of the Eagle?” “How are we able to see it if they’re so far away?” They couldn’t answer most of my questions since this had never happened before. I still couldn’t believe what we were about to see. I’m sure it’s what ultimately piqued my interest in astronomy, subsequent space missions, and Science in general. This is what it looked like 45 years ago this weekend.
Our family gathered in the living room in front of the small TV set with rabbit ears and watched as Cronkite prepared us for the first step on the Moon. Just over six-and-a half hours after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon at 4:17 p.m., we sat in silence and awe as Armstrong made his descent to the Moon’s surface at 10:56 p.m. and spoke his famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I'm sure the momentous event will be featured on newscasts this weekend. Incredibly, more than half the people living in the United States today weren’t even born when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon. It was arguably the most historic event of the 20th century. I, for one, am glad I saw it LIVE, and I will never forget it for the rest of my life!