It was a summer Sunday, but one that was destined not to be just any summer Sunday. The air crackled with the excitement of an approaching storm, waiting with anticipation for the thunder that follows the lightning. Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched on its mission to land men on the moon. A few days earlier, Brother Boomer blasted off in his 1965 Ford Mustang, headed for Cape Canaveral. He was determined to see this spectacle for himself; the beginning of the most momentous space exploration mission to date. The remainder of the Mister Boomer household would have to settle for watching on TV via the three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC.
Brother Boomer did make it down to Florida and observed the Apollo 11 launch. If Mister B recalls correctly, he was somewhere around Daytona Beach. From his vantage point, Brother Boomer watched as the Saturn V, the tallest and most powerful rocket ever built, spewed fire and smoke into the blue skies, arcing ever higher, until the first stage booster jettisoned off and fell into the ocean.
Ever since the first capsule rocketed into space, boomers were fascinated by the wonder and power of the booster rockets that propelled the brave astronauts into the unknown. Kits and models of all types were sold, including a replica of the Saturn V rocket that would hurl Apollo 11 into its trajectory to the moon. Brother Boomer had built his own Saturn V model kit, and now he was seeing firsthand the majesty of the real thing. Brother Boomer had a couple of model rockets. Mister B recalls one that was fueled by packing baking soda into the base. When Brother B dropped vinegar into the proper channel, the resulting chemical reaction sent the plastic rocket 30 feet into the air.
Having cleared the first phase of his mission to witness history, Brother B’s next phase was to return to the Midwest in time to see the first moon walk on TV. He docked with the home mothership on July 20.
Meanwhile, Mister Boomer does not recall any details of the early part of the day itself. It was a Sunday, so the family undoubtedly went to church in the morning, and like usual, visited both his grandmothers. His grandfathers had passed away within one year of each other in the early sixties, but the habitual Sunday visits to their homes continued. On returning home, he may have set out to meet neighborhood kids to play a game of catch, or perhaps watch someone launch a model rocket.
By 4 pm, however, Mister B knew exactly where he was: in front of the TV with his entire family, watching the live coverage. The streets were deserted as everyone had retreated inside to watch the drama unfold. Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached their destination on July 20, 1969. As Collins positioned the command module Columbia into lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module and took it to the surface of the moon. At 4:17 pm EDT, Neil Armstrong announced to a waiting world, “The Eagle has landed.”
It would be six hours later before Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar module’s ladder to take the first step any person had done on the surface of the moon. At Mister Boomer’s house, a collective sigh and a grin came over his family when the Eagle touched down. His mother prepared dinner in the intervening time. It was a rare occasion when the television was left on while the family ate, but this was no ordinary Sunday, and no one wanted to miss a minute. Once dinner was consumed, the family all retired back to the living room to watch the coverage. Finally, the time came, and Mister B’s family watched a scratchy black & white picture of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder to utter his now famous quote, which he maintained throughout his life was misquoted due to a gap in the voice transmission. His correct quote added an “a,” to be ,“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In 2006, NASA scientists analyzed the audio recordings of the moment, and found evidence of a 35-millisecond blip between “for” and “man,” long enough to have contained the missing “a.”
Brother Boomer recently told Mister B that he was so fascinated by the Space Race that he wanted to make his career in aeronautics, with a goal of working on space vehicles. Unable to gain access to relevant college courses in his area, he became a mechanical engineer instead. How many times did that story of inspiration repeat itself to shape the careers of other boomers?
There are many historical events that occurred during the boomer years, but the moon landing has to be at or near the top of the list. As a result, every boomer can answer, “Where were you when men walked on the moon?”
What’s your moon story, boomers?