We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
– President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, 1962
Forty years ago tonight man first walked on the moon.
The year I was born Sputnik first spun around the globe, sending our country into the Space Race. Our country embraced the goal President Kennedy outlined in his 1962 speech.
As a schoolchild, I remember the excitement about space exploration, the honors heaped upon Alan Shepherd and John Glenn, the horror at which all Americans and especially Hoosiers felt when Apollo I blew up on the launch pad with Hoosier Gus Grissom and Chafee and White aboard.
Parents ordered us paperback Scholastic Books about the moon, our Town Library had a copy of I want to be an Astronaut, and My weekly reader frequently highlighted stories about space.
Even though girls could not be astronauts (long before Sally Ride), I built a plastic Saturn V rocket model that I kept proudly in my room.
Finally the big night came, July 20, 1969. The Lunar Module landed on its self-proclaimed Tranquility Base under the manual steering of Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong who said, “The Eagle has landed,” (Armstrong was an Eagle Scout, his naming of the vehicle didn’t go unnoticed by his Scouting fans.)
The landing was in late afternoon Indiana time and Armstrong’s historic small step didn’t happen for several hours. My brother and I begged our mother to let us stay up and watch the moonwalk. While we owned our first color TV, a 26 inch cabinet-style RCA , of course the moonwalk broadcast in a fuzzy black and white.
Now I did what every eleven-year-old girl does when watching an historic event: I took notes as the event happened.
My original, as evidenced by my childlike handwriting was pulled out tonight from my big green childhood scrapbook. I transcribe it below:
The Flight of Apollo XI
July 20th 1969 at 4:26 PM two Americans landed on the moon in a spider-like spaceship called LM (Lunar Module.) It (sic) name was Eagle. They landed in the Sea of Tranquility. It was a perfect landing.
The moonwalk was called the E.V.A. A plaque signed by Aldrin, Collins, Armstrong, and President Nixon was left on the moon.
The space man and suit would weigh about 300 pounds on earth and the moon with 1/6th gravity would weigh about 67 pounds.
The spacewalk lasted about 2 ½ hours. Neil Armstrong was on the moon alone for about 15 minutes. Aldrin joined him then.
A Amer (sic) flag and some scientific instruments were left on the moon.
The spaceman cannot lean over because his suit is so large.
The crew didn’t talk very much.
Because he landed in the Sea of Tranquility, its radio code name was Tranquility Base.
The time Armstrong started down the ladder was approximately 10:52 p.m. and the time he had his first step was approximately 10:57 p.m. The first words spoken on the moon by Neel (sic) Armstrong were: Quote “one small step for man, one great leap for mankind.”
Aldrin descended at approximately 11:15 p.m. July 20th, 1969.
Mike Collins in the command and service module is almost the only American who wouldn’t see the spacewalk.
After they had been on the moon for awhile, they unveiled the plaque. One of the experiments was the solar wind experiment. It keeps track of solar flares.
Then they set up the flag. The Stars and Stripes was on the moon on TV.
Now 40 years have passed. No child born since then has a clue as to what Tang is or that monkeys once orbited the planet before men. They have no idea that Velcro came from research from the space program, based on a plant material.
For individuals born after 1969, man has always walked on the moon.
What a wonderful accomplishment that Americans were able to fulfill President Kennedy’s goal “not because it was easy but because it was hard.” Written by a 51-year-old who often still feels 11.
Published July 21, 2009 in “The Raven Lunatic” newspaper column.
Addendum August 25, 2012: Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong.