For me the answer is rather simple, in fact, when I saw the date,
20 July 1969, I said "Apollo 11." No, 1969 wasn't the summer of
'Love.' That came the year before. 1969 was the summer of 'Peace'
demonstrations and the build up to the anti-war moratoriums that
would come that autumn.
And me, I was sitting and waiting on 20 July. We'd practiced over and over again in the hot summer sun. And the sun in the South Pacific in July is always hot. We had practiced over and over again and we'd practice again that day -- we wanted to have it right a few days later when we'd welcome those Apollo 11 boys on board.
The shinny silver train car that would serve as isolation from any strange bugs that might be hanging out on the moon was ready in the hanger bay. And the helicopters, I think it was number 66 that would make the actual pick up once the capsule was in the water, the helicopters were also ready, as were the frogmen and Navy Seals, who would be the first at the capsule when it actually splashed down, and the crane operator who who'd lift the capsule from the water once the three astronauts were out and safe inside that isolation car. All ready and waiting.
That night I would sneak down to the hanger bay from the electronics shop with a friend and co-conspirator and affix a peace sign decal just under the number on the pilot's side of chopper 66. (A pity, but I never checked at any of the film footage that followed the recovery to see if it was visible.)
Oh yes, on 20 July I was stationed aboard the USS Hornet CVS12, the Apollo 11 and 12 recovery ship. We were all ready as we watched the astronaut antics on the moon.
Before we left Hawaii we'd installed a special satellite navigation system so we'd be in the right spot on that historic day -- a little like the hand held satellite location finders of today, except ours required a huge dome antenna and a special room to house the equipment. It was accurate. When it came time a few days later to position ourselves for the splashdown we were right where we were suppose to be, but, OOPS, the capsule was also right on target, and now WE were the target. In the last moments, the ship was quickly moved from the recovery spot to avoid a disaster of accuracy. We were there for splashdown, not crash down.
But that was still a few days away, and on 20 July once the training exercise was over there was time for a little on deck sunbathing. The South Pacific is very calm this time of year and the skipper had given orders to steer the ship clear of any rain storms. Oh yeah, and I remember suntan lotions, no #25, #8, #15, no, no, then it was just a mixture of baby oil and iodine and then bake slowly.
20 July 1969, catching a few rays before the evening meal and waiting for Buzz and the boys.
- Author Unknown
Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the totally exhilarating feeling when Man first set foot on the moon via the Apollo 11 mission, but, all things considered, I wouldn't trade being around for that, for any amount of money or power in the world. It's a "personal" thing, you understand.
I still have a copy of the "Life" magazine that introduced the seven original astronauts to America, and, as a high school student in Florida, was privileged enough to watch the launch of Alan Shepherd's tiny capsule as he became the first American in space. I also grieved with the nation when three brave astronauts died in a flash fire in their capsule. And I stayed "glued" to my television when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth and agonized with the world over the possibility that he might lose "the race" as he re-entered the atmosphere.
The whole space program was amazing and thrilling to me in those years, but, to think that a human being -- and an American -- was about to step out on the lunar surface for the first time in history, speak to us from that location, and then get in a "spaceship" and travel home was almost more than I could stand.
I had moved to Texas by July 1969, and I worked for a company that made a lot of electronic equipment for the U.S. space program. The night before the lunar landing, I didn't sleep at all, thinking about what must be going through the minds of the astronauts as they hovered over the moon, just waiting for the right moment. When that moment arrived and Neil Armstrong made his famous jump onto those cold, far-away rocks and uttered the first words from the moon, I burst into tears. My husband couldn't understand why I would cry at such a great moment, but they were tears of joy for a job done so well by so many, not just those on the surface of the moon.
After all, I had been there with them all along.
- Author Unknown
I was the Supervisory Engineer responsible for moving the Crawler Transporter and Apollo 11 from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. The day before the Roll Out I made a speech to the Crawler Transporter crew telling them that this Roll Out of Apollo 11 will be one of the most important events in our lives. I wanted all of us to perform at our best because the world was looking at all of us. On July 20 of '69 I was watching the landing on my black and white TV with a great amount of emotion. I am 67 and retired. I was an engineer on the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle Program before I retired.
- Author Unknown
Looking back 27 years to July 1969 fills me with the same euphoric feelings now that I had then. At the time I was a 10 year old boy spending my summer vacation in, of all places, Cocoa, Florida, right next to the Kennedy Space Center. I grew up in Hicksville, NY, about a mile from Grumman Aerospace's plant where the Lunar Module was built. Living so close to the plant and having friends whose parents worked on the craft gave me great insight into space flight and the importance and historic significance of the first lunar landing. Also in 1969 my brother-in-law worked for Grumman and was assigned to the KSC as an electrical engineer working on the final phases of the project. So there I was with a front row seat to watch history in the making.
The month of July was filled with anticipation. Tourists flooded the east coast of Florida. Souvenir stands were everywhere. The roads around Cocoa and Titusville were jammed. Everyone had one thought on their mind, the Apollo 11 mission. On July 16th I was fortunate enough to watch the launch in person, standing in the middle of the causeway that lead to the Kennedy Space Center. What a glorious sight that launch was. For the next four days I was glued to the radio and television, listening to and watching every detail that the announcer, experts, astronauts, scientists and others were offering.
July 20, 1969 . . . and the tension was mounting. I spent the whole day sitting in my sister's house with about 20 Grumman workers and their families waiting, watching, hoping and praying. Finally those famous words were broadcast -- 'The Eagle has landed.' Pandemonium broke out! Everyone was cheering! Backslapping! Crying! Laughing! It was party time! We poured into the streets along with everyone else in the neighborhood. The world seemed perfect. Men were on the moon, and they were Americans.
The revelry went on for hours. Then, sometime in the wee hours of the morning sobriety hit. A six year old girl asked her father a very simple and sobering question, "Will they be able to get home again?" Those of us who heard her question immediately became quiet. As one we lowered our heads and prayed. In one second we all went from the height of joy to the depth of concern. It still sends shivers down my back.
- Author Unknown
I was with several coworkers and a friend in a very small room on the 3rd floor of Bldg. 4 at the Johnson Space Center, which was then the home of the Astronaut office and the Flight Crew Support Division. I was 26 years old and had been a space flight zealot since the age of 11. It had been my job to serve as rendezvous training instructor for the Apollo 11 prime and backup crew (the backup crew was the prime crew for Apollo 13). The room was equipped with a television monitor on which we could see whichever display was then being viewed by the flight director (FD), and voice lines relaying the CAPCOM and FD audio.
Although for most people the most dramatic moments of the whole enterprise were just about to begin, something just as poignant had actually occurred about six weeks before, in the astronauts' large conference room adjacent to the smaller space described above. On that occasion, in that room, was held the last Data Priority Meeting before the first attempt at a lunar landing.
I never knew just why it was called the "Data Priority" meeting, but it was a sort of a super executive action committee, the chairman of which basically could conscript personnel, resources and money to work any problem affecting safety of flight or operational readiness. Each week over the past year, as I, and other engineers discovered new problems, the published list of pending action items got longer and longer. Looking at the length of the list, it seemed to me that the attempt to land might be made in 1999, or never. Sometime in early April, however, I was surprised to notice that the list had shrunk to about two or three pages. It continued to shrink a bit each week until finally, about the middle of May, it was only one page in length, and a rumor went about that at the next meeting, all outstanding items would be closed out.
That meeting had a much larger attendance than usual, with some astronauts and other personnel who did not normally participate. And indeed, all the pending items were reported closed by their assignees. The representatives from each key organization were polled for new items: Flight Crew Operations, Flight Operations, the Apollo Program Office, Engineering , Marshall and Kennedy Space flight Centers, Rockwell, Grumman, and MIT Instrumentation Lab. None had any. A dramatic silence fell over the room as the Data Priority chairman rose and walked to a nearby wall phone and called the center director, Dr. Gilruth, to tell him to advise NASA Headquarters that all pending issues were closed out, and that the next Mission--"G" in internal parlance--would attempt the landing. It was hard to believe the time had finally come, and that I was going to be right in the middle of it.
I returned to my office and immediately called a boyhood friend from Maine, who had shared my interest in space flight and who was the in the Air Force, to tell him that, "The Time Had Come," and to make plans to be in Houston on the 20th. And so upon that day we sat together in that small room and listened to events unfold, as we had so often imagined doing in late night conversations at home in Maine years before. For several moments during the descent, when on-board computer software alarms occurred, I thought "Dr. Rendezvous" (Aldrin) might have to give the rendezvous contingency training a field test. It was as great an adventure as one could wish for.
- Author Unknown
Liftoff 7/16/69 Splashdown 7/24/69 Total time on the Moon 31 hrs, 36 minutes
Yes, I remember well where I was on July 29, 1969. It was the midpoint of a journey of three men representing the billions of people populating our planet. A journey that was the technological culmination of all that had gone on before.
I was thirty something in the sixties, and a Systems Engineer at The Kennedy Space Center assigned to the Propellants Group of Boeing. Our job was to load the propellants, RP1, Liquid Oxygen, and Liquid Hydrogen, aboard the Saturn Booster that would propel humanity to another heavenly body for the first time.
There were three distinct phases of the Apollo 11 experience for me. The first occurred on launch day. I had been on the night shift, and my work was completed about dawn. I left the Firing Room to find an appropriate place to watch the liftoff. I found it just on the launch pad side of the VAB, as close as anyone could get to the launch pad. What followed was one of the most awesome things I ever experienced. The sound waves from the booster liftoff 3 1/2 miles away resonated in by chest cavity like a bass note in a pipe organ. The power was unbelievable. Once the Launch vehicle got out of sight, I went home to rest up and monitor the flight via Walter Cronkite on our black and white TV set.
The second phase was full of apprehension. Everything had to work right in order to successfully get to the moon. Transition from earth orbit to translunar orbit, from translunar orbit to lunar orbit, descent, and then what? Many very intelligent people were not at all sure that the lunar lander would not simply sink into the lunar dust and keep on going down. It was a major crunch time when we saw the LEM pads touch the Lunar surface, AND STAY THERE. What a feeling of relief. I still have the 1/4 inch tape of Walter's description of the trip that we recorded by placing a microphone in front of the television and speaking in whispers so our voices would not be recorded.
So we were there. Could we get them back? On the day they lifted off from the moon, I was able to go over to the firing room to watch the event on the console monitors. Once again, there was unbelievable apprehension. No one had ever done this before, and it had to be plu-perfect to be successful. It was probably the most thrilling launch I ever watched - to see the LEM take off like a cork from a champagne bottle. Once they linked up with Columbia, we were once again doing things that had been done before, and the anxiety level returned from unbearable to merely unbelievable.
These were three unforgettable phases of what I think was the apogee of mankind's accomplishments in space and technology. I was proud to be a part of it, and continue to be so. My only regret is that mankind has not progressed at the same pace in the ensuing 27 years to address our continuing problems. But, if we could go to the moon, there should be no limits to what we can do here on earth.
- Richard L. Westmoreland, Mechanical Engineer