If you were alive and cognizant in the summer of ’69, do you remember where you were and who you were with at Wednesday 2:56 UTC (Greenwich MT) July 21st 1969 / Tuesday 9:56PM Central Daylight Savings Time USA July 20th 1969? The title of this post gives you a big clue as to what you might have been watching on teevee at the time. No, Michael Jackson had nothing at all to do with news programs then.
Just over five hours prior to this time the Apollo Eleven’s Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed on the surface of the moon. NASA’s flight plan originally called for an extended rest period before any extra vehicular activity was to take place. Well, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had a different opinion about that.
Think about it. You’re in a space vehicle that has just landed on the moon. Everybody back home on Earth near a teevee is tuned in to your flight. You’re in the spacecraft, it’s parked on the moon. Do you think you’re going to be happy just sitting around waiting? Every minute would seem like an eternity. I’d be bolting out the door and yelling “That’s one small step….” before the retro-rockets had time to even cool down! I mean hello Mission Control, already! You’ve got a jaunty, custom designed dunebuggy to drive, scientific sampling to collect, a plastic flag to plant, a golf ball to hit and lots of tourist photos to snap for the taxpayers back home.
Neither before nor after “The Twilight Zone”, “Lost In Space” or coverage of the Mercury space program have I been so captivated by television. I remember the camera shot of one of the legs of the LEM showing seemingly forever until finally Neil Armstrong’s excruciatingly slow decent down the ladder to make his footprint on history.
Everybody on earth knew that history was being made. Not just run of the mill political history or yet another war in history, but probably the most incredible, fantastic event in the entire journey of humanity. This was like celebrating every holiday, your birthday and losing your virginity all at the same time. It was a one time only event. The whole planet was involved. Surprisingly there was not a whole lot of ultra-patriotic strutting. No shouts of “USA, USA, USA”. The event was simply so beyond astonishing that patriotism would cheapen the moment. If you witnessed the moon landing and the moonwalk, you likely felt a deep thankfulness about being alive at such a time.
I was fortunate to have spent that Tuesday evening at the home of two of my close friends. We were glued to the family teevee watching every moment of the coverage. The moonwalk was one of those events that needed to be shared.
This happened during the last summer vacation of my public school years. In September of ’69, I’d start my senior year of high school as a member of the Class of 1970. The dawning of a new decade and the beginning of the next big chapter of my life were just ahead. What more auspicious memories could I ask for as I was getting ready for adulthood? I can’t think of a better jump-start to a life-long love of study and inquiry.
The generation of people around the class of ’70, give or take a year or two, are children of the space age. I was not yet a grade schooler when the Sputnik was launched into orbit by the USSR. The Russian dog, Laika was the first large animal to orbit the Earth. She was launched in November of 1957. About a year before I entered kindergarten.
The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, will be a fixture in world history for years to come.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says, “That’s one small flap of the wings for a bird….”