This month will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that brought to a successful conclusion the challenge laid down by President Kennedy only eight years earlier. Three men went to the Moon, two walked on it, and they all came back safely, in a dramatic eight-day display of engineering and scientific prowess that was televised live to the world.
If you’ve made more than 50 trips around the sun, chances are good that you have some kind of memories of the first Moon landing. An anniversary like this is a good time to take stock of those memories, especially for something like Apollo, which very likely struck a chord in many of those that witnessed it and launched them on careers in science and engineering. We suspect that a fair number of Hackaday readers are in that group, and so we want to ask you: What are your memories of Apollo?
A Real American Hero
My memory of the Moon landing is admittedly vague. I had just turned five the month before, hadn’t even started kindergarten yet, but I had already caught the space bug in a big way. I lived and breathed the space program, and I knew everything about the Mercury missions that were over by the time I was born, and the Gemini missions that had just wrapped up. Apollo was incredibly exciting to me, and I was pumped to witness the landing in the way that only a five-year-old can be.
The landing was probably the most exciting part of the mission for Armstrong and Aldrin, what with the two computer alarms during descent and having to burn almost all their fuel shopping around for a place to land that wouldn’t topple the LM. But for me, it was a bit boring – the part we see today with a camera looking out the LM window at the boulder-strewn surface of the Moon was not transmitted live. What we got were animated images and a countdown with Walter Cronkite’s play-by-play and astronaut Wally Schirra’s color commentary. Looking at it now, with the animation synchronized to the telemetry, it was actually a pretty slick way to show what was happening.
The first steps on the Moon would wait for another six and a half hours, during which time dinner was eaten, baths were had, and jammies donned. There was exactly zero chance of my falling asleep, though, and like most parents at the time, mine rightly concluded that this was something that my brother and I should witness, regardless of the hour. So we assembled before the black-and-white TV to watch the proceedings. My one vivid memory of the whole thing was having all my G.I. Joe action figures laid out before me, especially the one in the silver Mercury-era space suit. As Neil Armstrong came down the ladder and deployed the camera in the next bay over to show the first steps, I bounced my little astronaut along in time, mimicking the historic steps that were happening 238,000 miles away.
In the end, what exactly I and my PJ-clad peers around the country remember about that night in July a half a century ago is irrelevant, except perhaps to us. What does matter is that for at least some of us, the magic of watching ghostly images of a man bouncing about on another world was enough to launch us on paths that would lead to lives spent pursuing science and engineering. We would go on to build the world we now live in, for better or for worse.
Now it’s your turn. Were you there to see history made? What memories do you have of the event? I suspect that more than a few of our readers are older than me and have clearer memories of the lead-up to Apollo 11 and the saturation coverage of the landing. We’d love to hear your perspectives, and perhaps learn a little about how it shaped your life. We’d also love to hear from anyone who had a hand in the success; after all, it took hundreds of thousands of people to put just two sets of boots on the Moon, and they all have stories to tell. Did you miss out on the excitement altogether? We’d like to hear about that too, and how knowing about the Moon landing only as a historical event has shaped your perception of it.
Sound off in the comments below about your Apollo memories.