Ask Hackaday: What Are Your Apollo Memories?

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.

Your Turn

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.

62 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What Are Your Apollo Memories?

  1. Sounds like I’m a couple years older than you…I was seven and my family (Dad, Mom, older & younger brothers and little sister) were on a big camping trip up in Wyoming. We broke camp the morning of the 20th and headed to Rock Springs, WY to spend the night in a motel and have access to a TV. My dad said it would be a night we’d never forget. After they landed, he presented to all 4 kids, all under 10, a motel water glass full of Coors Banquet where we all toasted the brave astronauts. I was (and still am) a bonafide space nerd so this was a cool way to celebrate. When we got home I dutifully assembled my Gulf Oil cardboard LEM model that hung from my ceiling of room until Farrah Fawcett posters replaced my NASA & Star Trek posters….

    1. OK, your story beats mine! I think I remember that cardboard model too. I did build a plastic model of the LEM years later – think it was a Revell kit. Of course now I have this:
      LEGO LEM

    2. I remember innumerable cardboard models of the LEM, of the Gemini capsules and the Agena, I think Gulf Oil was one, but others were definitely from cereal boxes. Some of the first times I was allowed to use something sharper than kid’s scissors.

      Like you, I remember sitting on the green wall to wall carpet of our recently remodeled screened in porch, watching the jumpy black and white picture (on the new color TV) with a toy 707 and being allowed to stay up late to see it. And watching every other landing as well. I also remember watching launches, landings, and Earth landings on the TV in school. The whole class was glued to that TV rolled in on a cart.

      It inspired me not only in a love of technology, but of science, learning, and exploration. I remember a teacher asking us how something worked. She knew no one in the room knew. The answer she was looking for was one I still quote today. “I don’t know, but let’s go figure it out”.

      Apollo chose where I went to college. I had several choices, but George M. Low, the man who was the Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) after the Apollo 1 fire, and later became Deputy Administrator, talked me into going to the college where he was president.

      Today, as I think about approach the end of my (formal) career, I’m making an interesting transition again. Where once I was a designer, tester, or researcher of solutions, (some of which are flying in space this very moment), I now am more aware of being a teacher and role model for those who follow. No longer am I just an explorer of whatever I happen to be doing, I am also bound to share that knowledge of my craft(s), and of the things I have learned. That will never go away.

  2. My memory was asking my dad: ” Dad whats the point of sending a man to the moon.” Response, Male pride to be the first.
    to which now that I am older all i would like to add is what a utter and total waste of money for the most part when it comes to lets spend a few billion to send a probe see if water was on bla.bla.bla.. Really? So a few billion to find that answer out. Lets see return on that investment. $0.00000. Now that is pure insanity.

      1. “Our current technology would be years behind without it.”

        Years behind what? The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. I can wait a few years before being able to play Pokemon Go. The environment could do with a break as well.

        The OP’s Dad was right. Going to the Moon was simply about the most primitive thing, an animal marking it’s territory. Any “benefits” were pretty incidental, and would have happened anyway.

        1. I contest your characterization of going to the moon as an animal marking it’s territory.
          If all you take away from our venture to the moon is the flag we left behind, you’re ignoring everything about getting it there. The design constraints are what pushed industry innovation. Consider the modern day when transistors approach their scaling limit, we are now forced to innovate beyond just making things smaller. All benefits are incidental, that’s how humanity works. We build on the work of others.

    1. It doesn’t take nearly all of our money to produce food. clothing, and shelter. So we spend the rest on whatever seems cool.

      Some people like art. Some collect stamps. Some build giant pyramids. The US sent people to the Moon.

    2. I used to get this question a lot, even back in the glory days: “Why are we spending billions of dollars to go to the Moon, when we could be using the money to cure cancer, or end poverty.”

      Well, you’ve had 50 years. How’s that working out for you? Cancer cured? Poverty ended?

      People seem to think that we somehow took all those billions, loaded them into a Saturn V, and launched it into outer space.

      Surprise, surprise! That’s not what we did with it. We spend it here on Earth. Duh!

      NASA worked up a list of technologies that came as spin-offs from the Apollo program. I won’t bother mentioning Velcro or Tang. I’ll only mention one: The integrated circuit.

      The Apollo flight computer used RTL technology integrated circuits developed by Fairchild. At one point, NASA was buying Fairchild’s entire production capability.

      By 1966, the Fairchild chips were available to us masses. I could buy a dual NAND gate for 80 cents; a J-K flip-flop for $1.50. And I used them … a LOT. Those chips would _NEVER_ have been available so cheaply without the Apollo effort.

  3. Dan,

    I was born in mid-August 1965, so I was about 1 month short of my 4th birthday.

    My father was following the Apollo program, so my recollection is that he awakened me very early in the morning (British Summer Time) – and we watched Neil Armstrong descend the steps together.

    I started at kindergarten in September 1969, and ended up with a degree in Electronic Engineering in July of 1986.

    I think my father helped channel my interest in science, and bought me my first soldering iron for my 6th birthday. Together we made crystal sets and other simple electronic projects.

    For a few years, until 1975, I lived opposite the phone company Central Office. I got to know the line engineers and they always let me have first pickings on surplus equipment that was being scrapped.

    Later on we used to get scrap DTL logic boards from late 1960’s factory automation – probably 20 transistors and diodes on a pcb that we used to salvage for parts.

    Fond memories of 50 years ago, inspired by the MoonRace.

    1. I agree with Dougal, and other kids of the mid to late 1960s. We were really too young to appreciate what was happening – and the TV footage that we think we remember from July ’69 has been repeated so many times that we don’t really know whether we witnessed it live, or it’s just memories of the repeats.

      As kids of the 1960’s we had the Vietnam conflict on TV every evening until the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. I think that’s why we all grew up to be pacifists…….

      It was 50 years ago – but the fact that we are contributing here on Hackaday is proof that those few days in July ’69 had a profound influence on our future lives. Engineers, hackers and scientists – our lives were shaped by those amazing times….

  4. I only had about 2.5 solar orbits under my belt when we landed on the moon, so I don’t have any memory of it. Though, my mom *did* sit me down in front of the TV, so I could at least say that I witnessed it (in some esoteric sense). I have some really vague memories of Apollo 13 — of perhaps knowing something was going on and asking about it. But I think my parents probably hand-waved the details from me, so that I wouldn’t stress about it.

    1. Interestingly, for someone so steeped in the Apollo program, I apparently missed the whole Apollo 13 thing. I only learned about it years later when I stumbled upon a book in the library called “Thirteen: The Apollo Flight That Failed”. One can argue that it was far from a failure, but the title grabbed my eye, and I devoured the book. It put me in awe of the people who brought 13 home, and when the movie came out decades after I was super excited.

  5. I was 9 at the time of the first moon landing. We were at a church family camp at the time of the launch, so my Dad brought along a 12 inch TV, large antenna, and mast so a room full of people could watch.
    We were home by the time of the landing and got to see it on a slightly bigger TV. I remember watching all of the TV coverage I could and my Dad made audio tapes of the news coverage of the entire time they were on the moon.

  6. I was 12 years old and also followed the space program closely. Once had a scrap book of all the newspaper and magazine articles and a few models.
    My parents and I were out on the Sacramento River in our very small cabincruiser boat heading back home. I was listening to the radio and imploring my parents to stop somewhere so we could watch the first moon walk. We finally stopped at a little marina just south of Sacramento (I believe it was called THE BRICKYARD MARINA). So there in the marina cafe, with only the manager, the four of us watched it on a small black and white portable tv with a fuzzy picture.
    I believe it was that program that got me interested in technology and my career in electronics engineering, communications and aviation. I wear my label as “technology geek” proudly.
    Heading to Airventure in Oshkosh in a couple of weeks where Michael Collins (Apollo 11) will be one of the speakers. Also speaking will be Burt Rutan, chief designer of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

  7. Well, Brian Williams (of NBC) and I were sitting in our lunar studio (we arrived ahead of time to film the event) and watched the landing live. The Lunar Lander didn’t land on the Big “X” that we had placed there, and so we lost a lot of film time and commentary because we had to reposition and refocus the cameras. When Neal and Buzz (we were on first name basis back then) had stepped out, we shouted to them to wave to us, but for some reason they didn’t hear us. Someone later said that sound doesn’t travel on The Moon, but that’s not true, because Brian and I could hear each other quite well.
    They might have been upset about us getting there before them, because they never really acknowledged our presence or even turned their cameras toward us. But it was a grand outing.

    1. Wow, hope you brought enough of that stuff for the rest of the class. Unfortunately Brian was 10 at the time sooo …. Besides, I heard that Neil was so in character that he demanded that actually demanded to film on location on the moon.

  8. Worked a high-school summer job at Avco, on something called “Project Apollo.” Had to apply for a security clearance, but didn’t get it before the summer was over. Larger pieces of equipment were covered over with green felt for security. I worked in the plating lab cleaning beryllium and in the epoxy lab making lap-test shear samples for the Instron tester. Later I found that I had been working on materials for the re-entry heat shield.

  9. I was six years old in 1969. We were on holiday in rural Brittany, France in what used to be a roadside café with a fussball table, cheap formica furniture but no TV! But one night, my parents took us out of bed to another bar where they had a small B&W set. That’s how I saw Neil Armstrong first step on the Moon, in a noisy and very smoky French bar. To be honest, I couldn’t really make out anything on the screen but I did know it was a historic event.

  10. I was 11, and my dad worked at KSC. In fact, most of the kids in my elementary school had dad’s that worked out there. For most of the Gemini and Apollo launches, we’d watch the liftoff on TV, then run out in the front yard to watch the rocket once it was high enough. It was usually almost out of sight before we’d hear the rumble from the launch that rattled the windows.
    For me, it seemed pretty normal (although actually going to the moon and back was still awe-inspiring). I assumed that everyone grew up and then went to work at the Cape.
    One thing I don’t believe I’ve ever seen discussed was how devastating it was to some families after the Apollo missions ended and the funding dried up. My father and many many other engineers, scientists, and technicians were suddenly out of work. Most had spent their entire careers working out there, and most struggled to start over in a new career. That part of central Florida went through a bit of a depression as people moved away and housing prices plummeted.

  11. I remember my mom wanted to go to the beach that afternoon (it was a beautiful day) but we managed to talk her out of it. I was around 7 at the time. I honestly could not make any sense of the murky first steps on the moon video until I saw it again as an adult.

  12. Me? I grew up during the time period. And as it happens I do recall staying up to watch it. In fact most of the family followed what happened up there. One of my aunts (Dad’s sisters) worked at the KSC for the company that provided medical services to the entire site. We spent an entire summer (or so it seemed) staying with my aunt who owned a trailer across from one end of Merriit Island. It was an amazing experience.

    To this day I recall the tail end of Project Mercury and the entire Project Gemini fondly, and of course all of the Apollo program, but the landing was an amazing one. There’s more regarding the flight to the landing site near a Surveyor but I’ll leave that for later.

  13. I grew up with the space program. I remember sitting on the floor as a six-year-old in my PJs watching Shepard’s first flight. It made a big impression on me. Little kids my age wanted to be firemen or police officers when they grew up. After that they wanted to be astronauts. Not me! I wanted to be the guy in the control room pressing the button to launch the rocket. I guess I was destined to be an engineer.

    I followed the program, read everything I could on it, and kept scrap books on stuff I found.

    It was a very hot July 20, 1969 when they landed on the moon. I was glued to the TV set following every bit of coverage. I was 14 then.

    The saddest thing is that 50 years later we have not come close to getting back there. Maybe in 4-5 more years.

    I feel very fortunate to have played a small part in a couple of NASA spacecraft in the 1970’s.

  14. I was 7 when “we” landed on the moon. I remember I carried around a Apollo 11 coloring book everywhere I went. I also remember our teachers discussing the fact they had a problem with the radar altimeter (not really in those terms, but there was that tense moment)

    Later I had a high school electronics teacher that was an instrumentation technician. He brought in the actual countdown printout he had with all the step that he preformed highlighted in colored pencil. He mostly had to turn on telemetry recorders at the right times.

    I also met Pete File. He was the engineer in charge of LM instrumentation. He gave a talk at our community college before we got a free screening of “Hidden Figures.”

  15. I was 11. My father was a pilot and into anything that flew. Many kits. I remember the Revell LEM module kit with it’s spindly little parts you had to glue with Testor’s model cement and getting light in the head.

    We watched the landing like everyone else, but for 11 year-old me, it was just another very fuzzy image in a succession of fuzzy images from space we had watched; Unfaithfully rendered on our 21″, 37-tube RCA Console TV, which, at least for me, by its formidible presence in our living room, became much more gripping point of interest. Down the rabbit-hole of electronics I went.

  16. Somewhere, our family has a box of 35mm photos, taken of our black and white TV showing the moon landing. I can vaguely recall that we all watched, but sadly, I have very few memories of my childhood. I do remember the “Race into Space” series of cards given away in packs of loose leaf tea.

  17. “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. ”

    If you’ve made more than 50 trips around the sun, chances are good that you about a year old when it happened. Grade school arithmetic matters, people!

    1. Hi Methuselah here, I think there are more than a few of us who have taken that 50+ orbit trip. Of course fewer might not have been old enough to recall but more than than do.

  18. At a rented cottage on Bass Lake, near Orillia ON. I was already a budding science geek so I was into it. Later, my parents and grandparents bought us the LIFE lunar landing special edition, copies of a few major newspapers, and a first-day-of-issue Apollo 11 landing stamp. I still have all of these.

  19. I was 10, living in Washington DC, that night. My folks were training for a stint in the Peace Corp that summer, and this was the beginning of a very big adventure, so my memories of the moon landing are part of a surreal montage of hippies camping on the Great Mall, trips to all the Smithsonians, and all the other sights of DC. It was really hot that evening, and it was a struggle to stay awake in my bunk bed that I shared with my brother, set up in a closet of the tiny apartment we rented that summer. Despite all this, I remember the night vividly, as I was (and still am) a space nerd. I watched the descent of the LEM and the first steps on the moon with my family and some neighbors, Later, one of my bigger regrets was giving away my collection of space-themed postage stamps that I collected all through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. When we got sent to Central America after that summer I collected many stamps from the countries there (which were generally more beautiful than anything the US issued). Being abroad shortly after the landing, I witnessed how it was not just an American victory, but a triumph valued by all humanity.

  20. I recall sitting in the back of our car listening on the radio to the moon landing while driving to Avalon NJ for our family summer vacation. We checked into the Golden Inn and then we watched late into the night the 1st moonwalk. Many years later my Dad had dinner with Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders who once walked past my drafting board when I was not paying much attention. Nowadays I have a fragment of the lunar module Orion, which happens to have a few grains of moon dust on it!

  21. I didn’t get to stay up and watch. I was five at the time. I would’ve figured it would have been a bit more of an event, after all my dad liked to point out that he was on the U.S.S Randolph when they fished Gus Grissom out of the drink! In fact the only lunar footage I remember seeing live was one of the later missions, on a b/w set mounted high on the wall of a classroom. It was so grainy and hard to make out that it couldn’t keep the interest of a group of 7 year olds. Still, as an American kid, your life was infused with the space program at the time. Our culture was promising adventure and wonder. Our G.I. Joes reenacted every scenario that Johnny Quest, Lost in Space, or Land of the Giants could plant in our heads. Every commercial break brought a new space based toy to find in our next box of cereal, or jar of TANG. You better believe I dug that lunar rover out of that jar the moment it hit the counter. (Warning: Do not inhale TANG dust! Very painful!) Hot Wheels, Creepy Crawlers and Wiz-z-zers took up the rest of our time, but the space toys were always held to a different level. This was real stuff, happening right now. We were up there. Exploring and experimenting. Near the end of 71 I finally got my Major Matt Mason figure and his ultimate accessory, the Star Seeker, and I was in heaven. It was powered, and you could program it, and it came with cardboard stand ups of all the planets, and I also got a sheet of decals of all the Apollo mission patches, which I proudly stuck on my bedroom wall in a nice, neat circle. And every evening was a solemn screening of the days events, NASA’s latest achievement followed by riots, demonstrations and the grim reality of war in Asia as brought to you by Huntley/Brinkley or Walter Cronkite. Life certainly had a different flavor back then. The end of Apollo, the Vietnam pullout, the gas crises, and Watergate heralded a change and things just weren’t the same. The novelty of the moon wore off quickly, and nobody wanted to watch people doing experiments on Sky Lab. It felt like NASA’s budget was directly tied to Star Treks Nielsen ratings. Now I look back and feel like we just lost focus. No more goal. Nothing would galvanize us in such a positive way again. The Shuttle program, for all it’s technical merit, had no real pinnacle achievement to work towards which would hold all of our rapt, breathless attention the way the Apollo program did. Going to orbit had become mundane and pedestrian. We really need a new goal. Kids these days have no idea. Today’s culture seems to have no clear task to achieve. No real heroes. Space is just a commercial enterprise.

  22. I’ve been reading Digital Apollo and I’ll be reading Frank O’Brein’s book on the AGC. It reminded me of the Apollo missions like the 2 Apollo capsules that docked. I recall watching the news reporting. I also recall being fascinated by the Apollo missions and watching as much of it as possible. I recall being glue to the TV during Apollo 11. It was a black and white TV and we had no air conditioning so the windows were opening of the apartment. I recall the weird video from NASA. I didn’t understand the issues then and I’m only beginning to now.

    1. Do us a favor please and provide the titles and author names for both. I believe I met the man you mention for the AGC, and I believe I’ve got an idea what you’re getting for Digital Apollo. But some of us have not.

      1. Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight (The MIT Press) by David A. Mindell
        The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation (Springer Praxis Books) by Frank O’Brien

        I’ve met Frank, loved his presentation at Trenton Computer Festival and he drops by InfoAge (Wall Twp, NJ) once a month to give a NASA related presentation.

        1. Indeed. Regarding Digital Apollo, I found a copy of it at my library And regarding Frank O’Brian. I met him the first time I was at VCF East. As for his book, I believe it is on my Amazon Wish List. And I think I stuck Digital Apollo in there as well.

  23. I was taking B&W pics off the TV screen with an AGFA Carat 16, and later encased them in plastic resin. Despite being encased they still have yellowed.

    It was a better time back then. US population has gone up 3X (and even more by now).

  24. I was seven years old. We got to stay up late and watch the coverage on the new Heathkit color TV that my dad had just finished assembling. It was in my parents’ room, while our family room still had a Zenith B&W set. The pictures from the moon were all poor quality B&W on that first mission, but the TV studios had color coverage of their simulations and earthbound anchors.

    Major Matt Mason, Johnny Astro, and Tang were among the brands that my friends and I had to have during the space race. Apollo really captured the collective consciousness more fully than any other event I can remember.

  25. I was 13 for Apollo 11 then and remember my mother and older brother glued to every TV broadcast there was in Miami. We even watched the launch from outside in the yard during its higher part of the launch even that far away. I am sure that the space program did impact me as I worked to get my Ham Radio ticket six years later. Have loved to tinker and hack ever since.

  26. I wasn’t born yet, but I’ve listened to plenty of stories at Norwescon about what spaceflight means to people. When we had the filk circle, at least one person would usually sing Hope Eyrie every year.

    I’m not quite like them. I don’t want to go to Mars. I don’t really care about colonizing space as a practical endeavor.

    But I can’t deny that space travel is an inspiration to us all.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the risk those astronauts went through, and there’s some very dark politics behind a lot of it. But the landing itself should be a reminder that technology can be more than just incremental improvements while we slowly pollute the ocean more and more.

    Over the top insane schemes that don’t seem possible can happen, and any one of us could be part of the next Giant Leap for Mankind.

    From all who tried out of history’s tide,
    A Salute for the team that won!
    And the old Earth smiles at her children’s reach,
    The wave that carried us up the beach
    To reach for the shining sun.

  27. I was 15. My memories of that week are fuzzy — at this point, I don’t know which are real and which have been created by watching the better coverage available nowadays. But I do remember the heat. I was in Massachusetts, and it was a hot, hot July. I remember camping in front of the TV as they landed, and holding my breath (along with the rest of the country) and the relief of them finally making it down in one piece.

    Then, the interminable wait. And then, the interminable fuzzy black and white shot of what we were told was the leg Armstrong would come down. That, at least, is clear in my memory. And then, finally, motion. If you knew it was supposed to be a man crawling down the leg of a LEM, that’s what it looked like, I guess. But it took a lot of imagination to see that. What a way we have come since then!

    I remember also, going and buying newspapers (which I still have) the next day. Even at 15, I knew this was something I should document to show my kids. One small step, indeed. Seems like we all took it with Neil.

  28. I was 11, living on a farm in South Dakota. we “walked over” to the neighbors to watch them walk on the moon, then walked the 1/8 mile home about 10 PM. Walking in the moonlight, I looked up and pointed, saying to my Mom “Look Mom, They’re up there!!!”. Her reply? “Yes, I guess they are”,,,,,,,, I guess I was more interested in it than she was, LOL.

  29. I had just turned 19 at the time. As another person commented, we sat in front of a Heathkit color TV that my father and I had assembled (another whole story that). Again the images that we saw required a lot of imagination to see as an astronaut walking on the Moon but we trusted the source that we were watching. For a dive into this part of our history I recommend the PBS American Experience 3-part series: Chasing the Moon.

    My dad was a human factors technician at the Army’s Human Engineering Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen Maryland. He always had some kind of electronics or aviation book sitting by his chair in the family room. My favorite was Aviation Week and Space Technology always filled with the latest info about the space program.

    I was a civil engineering major at the University of Miami with an interest in inner space ie marine engineering. The technical interests that I harbored certainly had their roots in our nation’s efforts to land a man on the moon. Those were the days of Keuffel & Esser Log Log Decitrig slide rules, although early desk top digital calculators were becoming available.

    On May 5th 1961, the day that Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space, I was traveling with my family as we moved from Hagerstown, Maryland to San Diego, California. We had just left our motel in Flagstaff, Arizona and were listening to the coverage of the launch and recovery on the radio. Less than a year later I was sitting in an assembly hall at John Paul Jones Elementary School watching television coverage of John Glenn’s three orbits of the earth.

    We lived in Serra Masa not far from Convair, a division of General Dynamics, where the ICBM Atlas missiles were being built. This was the missile used to loft John Glenn’s and subsequent Mercury capsules into orbit. We would ride over there on our bikes to play in an F-86 that was on display. Watching in awe as newly manufactured missiles left the plant bound for Cape Canaveral (and other more ominous destinations).

    Some of my earliest detailed knowledge of the space program came from a visit to our junior high school by a NASA sponsored outreach program to inspire interest in the sciences. It started as meeting of all of the students in the assembly hall. I have only vague memories of that meeting but then we returned to our regular classes and mine was chemistry. We got a visit from one of the presenters who then proceeded to give us a demonstration of how hypergolic (self igniting) rocket fuels worked. Into a small ceramic crucible he poured a variety of chemicals supplied by our teacher. After a few seconds of smoke rising the mixture ignited into a bright tower of flame that licked the classroom ceiling for a few seconds and then receded into the crucible. Needless to say the entire class was transfixed as was our teacher.

    I enthusiastically followed America’s space race with the Soviets, from Mercury through Gemini to Apollo 11’s triumphant landing on the Moon. Only to be crushed by our nation’s equally stunning retreat from space after Apollo 17.

  30. I’m a little older than the rest of you. Partly for that reason, I was blessed to have been involved in Apollo since before it was called Apollo. In April 1959, I worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center, and did seminal work on the Circumlunar Trajectory — the now-familiar, Figure-8, “free return” trajectory. My paper with Bill Michael was the first published in a refereed journal.

    At the time, we weren’t thinking about manned missions. We had an idea to send a simple camera — a “Kodak Brownie” class — around the Moon, take a photo of the back side, and return the film to the Earth. That idea fell through, but after Kennedy made his “Man on the Moon” speech, you can see why the idea of going around the Moon and “returning safely back to Earth” had a lot of interest. For the next five years, I thought of little else.

    The circumlunar trajectory is VERY sensitive to launch and navigation errors. The likelihood of launching from the Earth, swinging around the Moon, and returning safely to Earth without midcourse corrections is slim to none. Even so, starting with a free return gave the astronauts at least a fighting chance of coming home alive. And even with the most rudimentary midcourse corrections, the chances are good. Jim Lovell proved that, in Apollo 13.

    In 1961, GE had won a NASA contract to do a feasibility study for Apollo, and was pumping company $$$ into a proposal for the production contract. I switched to GE and was in charge of doing _ALL_ of GE’s trajectory simulations. I worked up all manner of targeting methods and differential correction software to help us generate trajectories very quickly. Among other things, those trajectories went to the radiation guys, the heating load guys, the comm guys, and all other such teams.

    After GE lost the production contract, I got moved to their Reliability Assessment Division in Daytona. There I worked on abort trajectories. I came up with two different approaches. Near the Earth, you didn’t have to slow down; just deflect the velocity downward a bit, and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. Further out, but still outbound, you have enough fuel to literally stop, turn around, and burn back towards the Earth. We called that mode “Fast Return.”

    There’s a scene in the movie, “Apollo 13,” the trajectory guy is telling the Gene Kranz character (Ed Harris) about the situation. Kranz says, “Can we do a Fast Return?” The guy says, “No, we’re too far out for that. We’ll have to get back on a Free Return.”

    When I saw this exchange, I thought “Man. These guys just told the story of my life!”

    For more, see

  31. When I was a kid, one of my earliest memories was seeing Ed White – the first American go walk in space. He became my first hero. I can remember watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon when I was 9.

    About 29 or 30 years ago I worked on an infrared optical system at Westinghouse. The first time I walked into the engineering manager’s office, I saw a picture on the wall of a group of men, including a younger version of him, holding an Emmy award. “What the….?” I started to ask, then I saw another picture of him holding the camera. THE CAMERA. The camera that sent back the images of Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon. The Emmy was for technical achievement for the Apollo cameras. Wow. He told me stories of the technical challenges of developing the LM camera – the biggest was meeting the requirement for less than 7 watts power draw. I felt honored to work for a guy who played a part in that historical moment. Still do.

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