Great-aunt Emma reacted to news of the Apollo Eleven landing with horror. She firmly believed that the Moon would soon fall from the sky and shatter itself onto the Earth like a Christmas tree ornament. No amount of logical reasoning could reassure her that everything was going to be fine. I remember her saying, “The Moon will be destroyed very soon.”
Within a year or so, Emma had reassessed her opinion about the Moon landing and went about her life, basically unconcerned about the Moon’s safety. Aside from small talk mentions, I don’t remember her saying anything profound about the Moon. I never did inquire how Emma came around to accepting the condition of the Moon. I suspect she had some inaccurate concepts regarding our natural satellite, like its size and orbit. She did harbor a few folk superstitions regarding the Moon, but rarely mentioned them.
My great-aunt’s reaction to that historical event is the only negative thing I remember about that day, 50 years ago. For the rest of my family, friends, and acquaintances, the events surrounding Apollo Eleven brought about anticipation and joy. To me it seemed like all the best Christmases and birthdays combined together into one gigantic, special day.
On July 20, 1969, the suspense about the craft making a soft landing onto the surface of the Moon was titillating, to say the least. Then, Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin successfully landed the “Eagle” at 20:17 UTC. Observers around the world sighed a breath of relief. It was then just a matter of remaining patient as we awaited the moment when an astronaut would take humanity’s first step onto the lunar surface. The pause seemed to take forever for those of us who were eager to witness the historic moment.
Finally, six hours later Neil Armstrong opened the hatch and began his slow descent towards the lunar surface. Then it finally happened. The official time of Armstrong’s first step was at 02:56 UTC, July 21, 1969. Nearly 20 minutes later, Buzz Aldrin began his own Moon walk.
The details of the landing and subsequent events have been recorded and remembered for posterity. Meanwhile, for those of us who were old enough to comprehend the importance of the first Moon landing, we will always remember where we were, who we were with, and how we felt.
I was at the house of my best friend and his family. Joe, his sister, their mom, dad, their large collie and me focused our attention on the console television at one corner of their living room. After Armstrong’s first steps, we had our own little celebration. There were hors d’oeuvres or as the parents jokingly called them, “horse dee orfs”. The two adults had mai tais and we three high schoolers sipped mocktails. I don’t remember if the dog had anything special.
Now, 50-years later, all I have are memories of that marvelous day. There isn’t even Joe to share Moon walk reminiscences because he passed away a few years ago. It still feels amazing that I was looking forward to my senior year of high school in the summer of ’69. It was a time of grand possibilities and potential. Joe and I were at our most idealistic stage of adolescence.
At this moment, I know I’m looking back in time through rose-colored glasses. That’s OK because the memories of July 20, 1969 are uplifting and inspirational. I can close my eyes and experience the energetic joy and promise of youth once again. Such a gorgeous day it was.