This July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon. We asked readers to share their memories from that day 50 years ago, and here’s what they said. Excerpts have been lightly edited for spelling, grammar and punctuation.
“At the time of the moon landing, my parents, brother and two sisters and I were visiting my grandparents in Hemet, California. On the afternoon of July 20, we were driving, near Riverside as I recall. At some point, the adults remembered that the moon landing was happening, so we pulled into the parking lot of a roadhouse.
My grandfather ushered us all into the bar, where there was a television. The barman protested that we four kids were underage and couldn’t stay. My grandfather insisted very firmly that history was being made and these kids were going to see it. And so we did.” — Mike Barbee
“During the landing phase I was an 11-year-old dialed into the kitchen AM radio. I distinctly recall Mission Control exclaiming “60 seconds,” referring to the fuel remaining, then “30 seconds” with more urgency. When I heard Aldrin call out “contact light” I was uncertain if that meant they had landed safely or crashed having run out of fuel. My imagination was hyperactive as I listened purposefully through static for any kind of sound indicating success but heard very clipped astronaut speak that only added to the tension I already felt.
I recall how Armstrong’s announcement that the Eagle had landed stirred a celebratory exhale and the sheer joy that burst out of my chest. I also felt a deep connection in that moment to others on Earth.
I wish I could have bottled the light, joyful, peaceful and spiritual feelings I experienced during the landing and moonwalk to share with everyone. ” — Dan Chirillo
“It was a day I will never forget. Monday, July 20, 1969, was the day I was supposed to report for duty in the U.S. Army. I was 19 at the time and wanted to take a break from school, but it was the height of the Vietnam War and every reasonably healthy male my age who was not in school was being drafted. So I had enlisted rather than wait for the inevitable draft notice. With the moon landing scheduled for that day, however, President Nixon declared a national holiday and my report date was pushed to the following day.
I wound up watching the moon landing on TV with a bunch of guys my age, some of whom I had just met, at the fraternity house of a high-school friend over at the University of Washington. I remember CBS anchor Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses when the moon landing was confirmed, expressing the joy and wonder we all felt.
A while later, watching the flickering black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of the Eagle lunar lander on to the moon’s surface and hearing his famous words, it was hard to comprehend the full significance of the moment. I was in grade school when the first Russians and Americans were launched into space, and in a way we were all school kids on July 20, 1969, staring at a TV screen, watching history being made again.
“The next day I was in boot camp at Fort Lewis; I missed seeing the return of the Apollo 11 crew to Earth, the ticker-tape parade for the astronauts, and most of the important news events of the next two years.” — Ed White
“My “wasband” and I left Washington D.C., on July 20, 1969, headed for our new home in Seattle. Of course, we were listening to the radio all the time, but taking the scenic route through West Virginia and into Ohio. As the moment approached, we began looking for the telltale glow of light that would come from a TV in a tavern. Found one just in time. Parked the car, made it into the tavern, ordered a beer and there it was: “One small step for man …” My brother was in Houston working at NASA on the telemetry for the landing, so I knew I had to see it in real time. Successful!!
Even today, all of this replaying of the moon landing brings me to tears of excitement. It was a rapturous moment for the world and I’m so glad I was somewhere to see it!!” — Tracy Salter
“Following the tragic death by fire of the three Apollo 1 astronauts, NASA contracted with Boeing to provide wide-ranging management and engineering support in a program called Apollo TIE (Technical Integration and Evaluation). Boeing personnel were stationed at all Apollo sites.
At the time, I was working for the Hamilton Standard Company near Hartford, Conn. Hamilton Standard had the contract to build the Portable Life Support System that the lunar astronauts would wear on the lunar surface. I worked in the labs that tested this system connected to a space suit.
Because of my experience in testing space suits, Boeing hired me in 1967 for their team at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. Our group was assigned to support the NASA Space Simulation Facility, which had two large space-simulation chambers used to test the Apollo spacecraft and spacesuits under thermal-vacuum conditions.
Each lunar-surface astronaut was required to practice the tasks he would perform on the moon in a simulated space environment. Our Boeing group helped design the test equipment and wrote the test procedures.
Before the actual tests, a “dry run” of the procedures at atmospheric pressure was performed. I would accompany the astronaut into the space simulator and run through the detailed tasks he needed to perform. The attached photo shows Neil Armstrong and myself during one of the dry runs. Our group supported NASA in performing these and other spacecraft/spacesuit tests between 1967 and 1972.
It was an exciting place to work during those years. Every day you could be working with a variety of NASA and contractor personnel — all working together to make Apollo a success.
I eventually transferred to Seattle in 1972, working in Boeing’s Space Simulation Facilty in Kent until 1976. I then completely changed careers, becoming an AWACS radar-ground and flight-test engineer for the next 29 years until my retirement in 2005.” — Paul Gauthier