I was an excited child of only 10 years old enjoying my summer vacation from school on July 20, 1969. I was excited because I had a fascination with space travel and the possibility of visiting other worlds. I had enjoyed the biographical section of the school library reading about early explorers in this world. I imagined what it must have been like to “boldly go where no man has gone before” as I watched Star Trek or Lost In Space. I even enjoyed reading or television about ocean diving. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea fascinated me for this reason. I also enjoyed fictional books about space travel as I imagined doing so myself. Now, in a few minutes, I was going to actually get to See someone step onto the surface of a new world.
I had anticipated this for days as the crew of Apollo 11 were launched toward their destination from Cape Kennedy in Florida. Speculation that they would land on the surface of this unexplored world and sink deep into the dry dust of it caused me concern for the astronauts. How did they know they would not bounce off of the moon and fly out into space, or some unknown force or being would not destroy them? It was real life exploration of an unknown world that I had only read about before and now I was going to get to see images and hear the voices as Neil Armstrong made history for mankind.
I loved the name Neil Armstrong, it was so masculine sounding and appropriate for my young child’s imagination of what an explorer should be. The other names were not as important to me, because they were not the first or the commander. I wondered at how disappointing it must have been for “Buzz” Aldrin to have to watch as someone else was allowed to step onto the moon first. I then thought about the poor sap, Michael Collins, who was circling the block in the Apollo 11 Capsule, waiting on the Eagle to return to the mother ship from the moon with his crew mates. How did he get stuck with such and unrecognized but important position. So close, yet so far. I imagined him being the guy that thinks things like “always the bridesmaid, but never the bride”.
I was awakened early by my father and though I could not wait to experience this history, it was summer vacation from school and I was already used to sleeping in every morning. I remembered eating breakfast while listening to the T.V., something that just was not done in our household. We always turned the television off when the family gathered around the table for our meals. This day was different, because today the world’s history would change forever. I could scarcely wait any longer, as I had very little patience. I wanted to cut to the chase and fast. I always saw situations resolved quickly in thirty minute television shows and this seemed to drag on and on. I finished eating and still, those astronauts were in their capsule, the Eagle, sitting on the surface of the moon. It seemed so long since the words, “The Eagle has landed” were broadcast to the universe. I remembered how quickly I jumped out of the car when we traveled across North Carolina from Asheville to Wilmington to visit my grandmother. That was only a one day trip, and I wondered if the Astronauts were as eager to get out of the “car”.
Would this be the moment, I wondered, as the television announcer, Jules Bergman, described what was to happen soon. In a moment, history was happening too fast it seemed. Neil Armstrong stepped down the ladder from the Eagle. I remember the video being too grainy and hard to see. It did not help that we lived in a “shadow” of the television antenna high on top of 5700 foot mount Pisgah and never had good reception anyway. This was before cable and satellite television and we only got three channels over the air. I recall going outside to adjust the antennae while dad called instructions out the door of the house. “A little more to the right, now left, easy, there, that is perfect!” I would get in to find perfect was a relative term. Neil stepped onto the moon and made that famous statement which I heard live, “One small step for man, one giant leap for macccgghhhhttt”. What did he say? It had to be mankind, but it was garbled with static at the end. I was so disappointed that the moment was not perfect. Was it our T.V., or was it the transmission from the moon? It turned out the original transmission was a bit garbled at the end, but we know he did say, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” What perfect words these were. Short concise and so true they were. What else could I expect from a man named Armstrong?
I remember watching for more T.V. footage of the activities on the moon and feeling let down, because I wanted to see more. I wanted this to last and last so I could explore with them. Then, all too soon it seemed, they got back inside the Eagle and blasted back to the Apollo capsule. I was relieved that my heroes were safely able to break free from the moon and the mission was a success so far. I imagined what questions Michael Collins must have had ready to ask Armstrong and Aldrin when they docked back with his craft. I thought of the wast as the Eagle was jettisoned to make the return back to earth.
It seemed no time that the Apollo 11 capsule splashed down in the ocean and the crew was picked up. I remember the quarantine to be sure no diseases or organisms were present to destroy our world and the relief to find there were none. I remember the disbelief of adults that were saying this was all staged and we never landed on the moon. How could they not believe a man named Neil Armstrong? If for no other reason, his name was so American he had to be the real thing. I was just glad to be able to be a part of the generation that got to experience the men with “the right stuff.”