SHARED STORIES FROM THE 1969 APOLLO MOON LANDING
Memories from Alabama Public Television Viewers who either worked on the historic 1969 moon landing
or remember watching it with their friends and family.
INSPIRED MY CAREER
Like many others, our family gathered around the television and watched Walter Cronkite narrate the events and then we watched the grainy image of Neil Armstrong climbing down from the Eagle and saying “One small step for [a] man and one large step for mankind.” It was that event that got me to thinking that I have got to be part of this. It inspired me to become an Electrical Engineer. After going to Auburn University and UAH I succeeded at working on the conceptual designs for Space Station experiments and Space Shuttle USML And Middeck Glovebox And experiments. I have had the privilege and honor to work with other engineers, some who worked on Apollo and Saturn and trained astronauts. Now, I am working on Future Vertical Lift to bring capabilities to our troops in the future. All of that resulted in my life from that moon landing. We should and will return to the moon before we go to Mars or beyond. This generation must relearn what the generation that got us to the moon.
Alex Boydston, Meridianville, AL
WATCHED IN A RAIN FOREST
My husband was a National Park Ranger assigned to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. We had no television reception at our home in the rain forest. Fortunately, a park maintenance employee and his family invited us to his home in Forks, WA, to watch the moon landing. Our daughter was 3 1/2 and our son was 8 months old. We were all in awe to witness the landing.
Billie June Henley, Huntsville
I was 18 and had just moved from a small town of 1100 people to Atlanta whose population was nearing a million people. I was so lost and homesick and I thought as I watched this landing alone, they must feel just like I do, so uncertain. How I cheered when they touched down and made that small step for all of us. That mission gave me the courage to stick with whatever happened in my life and I have and 50 years later I am still celebrating that first small step.
I FILMED IT!
I was 11, living outside Philadelphia, PA. My parents allowed me and two of my sisters to stay up late on a ‘school night’ to watch this special event on one of the 3 channels we got on our black and white TV. I filmed the event (TV Screen) with our wind up Bell & Howell 8mm movie camera. There was no audio in my film but when the developed film finally made it bake in the mail, we had Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon in forward and reverse for years to come. I have no idea what happened to that home movie but I will always remember the dark den with all of us watching the moon landing and wondering if those men would ever set foot back in the USA.
OSCILLATION (SLOSHING) CONTROL
I worked for NASA for 39 years, starting in 1962, most of it in the Astrionics Lab under George von Pragenau and Dr. Haeussermann. I worked as an Electrical Controls Systems Engineer on the S-IV B stage of the Saturn IV, primarily on the thrust vector stability controls system on the instrument control unit (ICU) . The primary goal of my job was to reduce POGO, which is linear oscillations on the rocket in flight caused by the sloshing of the liquid fuel, like a pogo stick. We controlled the engines to dampen the sloshing to prevent the vehicle from destroying itself. I took my wife and 3 sons to watch the landing that night at one of my co-worker’s homes, Tom Fox. My impression was I was very happy we made it, and I knew I shouldn’t have been but I was still a little surprised with the number of years we spent working to make sure nothing went wrong.
WATCHED BLAST OFF LIVE, LANDING ON TV
In July 1969 I turned ten years old. My father, Donald Bowden, was Chief of Configuration Management on the Saturn V at Marshall Space Flight Center. Prior to that he was Marshall’s Resident Manager at North American Aviation in Downey, California where they were building the S-II stage. Our house was on a hill overlooking MSFC. Seeing and hearing test firings from our house was a frequent occurrence in the 1960’s.
On July 16, launch day, our family was at NASA’s family campground near the launch site. It was crowded with NASA employees and their families. The night before, we could see the Saturn V vehicle shining in the floodlights. I remember playing with my brother and sister and the other kids around the campsite in the morning before launch time. I remember it being a very humid and bright morning. There were a few clouds around, but visibility was very good. Everyone had their portable transistor radios and car radios on, so it was easy to follow the countdown. The countdown went very smoothly. There were no delays, and the launch occurred right on time. At liftoff we saw the flames and smoke before we heard it. It was very loud, but I didn’t cover my ears. It pounded our chests. My father was watching through binoculars. I remember him saying he saw the successful staging after the S1-C had burned out.
After the launch, we returned home and followed the rest of the mission on TV. We had recently bought the largest color TV available at the time to watch it on, 26″ I think. I remember our family gathered around the TV the evening of July 20 to watch the lunar landing attempt. I had wanted the landing to happen on my birthday, the 21st, and it was in most of the world, but not in the US. The moonwalks lasted until after midnight Central time but we stayed up until the end. I remember my father emphasizing how historical this event was.
Carlos L. Bowden, Madison
MOON OVER VIETNAM
My company, D Company, 2/506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), was atop a mountain in the Ashau Valley. The Vietnamese name for the mountain was Dong Ap Bia. To the Montagnards, it was “The Mountain of the Crouching Beast.” On U.S. military maps, it was simply Hill 937. American soldiers named it “Hamburger Hill.” The name entered the American vocabulary after of the infamous battle of May 10-20, 1969, conducted primarily by the 3/187th Infantry. On July 18, D Company was lifted to a position east of Hamburger Hill, under operational control to the 3d Squadron, 5th Cavalry. That unit, commanded by Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, needed help in clearing enemy in the area. When the going gets tough, the other combat arms call in the Infantry.
C Company, commanded by Glynn Hale, was inserted west of the Hill. He was a West Point classmate of Captain Meigs. On July 20, D Company became the first American unit on the Hill after the battle. D and C Companies cleared the objective. On that same day, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The sliver of the waxing moon, 30% full, that night was visible from the Hill. In that moment of greatness, the United States was mired in war.
Patrick H. Graves, Jr.
WATCHED IN HONDURAS
In 1969 I was living in Honduras, Central America. After college graduation in 1968, I had become part of a two-year international church-related service program in different locations within Honduras. Part of the time I lived and worked in medical clinic in a rural village called El Porvenir, assisting a nurse-midwife. At the time of the Moon Landing, I was living in the capitol, Tegucigalpa, working in an office and a bookstore. I delighted in friendships with Honduran nationals, as well as with fellow North Americans, and others from around the world who lived in the international boarding house where I created home. As the time drew close for the USA trip to the moon, I was invited to stay with a U.S. missionary family who was very excited about this event. All of us–adults and children– were crowded around their black and white television to watch the Landing. We cheered heartily as we watched the snowy picture of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Those of us who witnessed this event of a lifetime were proud of our country’s contribution to the world in this way.
Judith Guerry, Huntsville
WATCHED AT THE BEACH!
I was thirteen. And for as long as I could remember my mother’s family had taken my family and my aunts, uncles and cousins to join them for two weeks every summer for a vacation in Gulf Shores, AL. It was always a magical time that we all enjoyed and looked forward to every year. But in 1969 it was even more special. This was the year that humans would actually walk on the moon and we were going to see it together – there on our beloved beach. I remember my dad and uncles bringing a television out onto the beach right after dinner – at least as far as the cords would let them – to sit on a table in the sitting area that we had all created earlier that afternoon for this very special occasion. It was a full moon and we were absolutely amazed at what we were going to see. Grandpa had been teaching us about the stars in the sky and the planets around us for as long as I could remember and this event was like like a culmination of everything he had wanted to teach us. Come dark we all hurried in from running the beaches and gulped down a quick meal before settling down in our places on the blankets on the cool sands. The moon was shining brightly above our heads; the reporters droning on in the background as the adults watched the coverage on the old TV set. But at a certain point we all laid back on the blankets – our backs against mother earth – our eyes, imaginations and minds focused intently on the moon above us as the astronauts far above earth landed on our beautiful mother moon. The sounds of the gulf waters shushing up onto the shores; the world seemed to slow and sigh as mankind took this next monumental step toward it’s future. We rolled over to stare at the TV and laughed in amazement at the reality that what we saw on the television was actually happening so many thousands of miles above our heads sank in. It was a priceless memory. One that we were all glad to share. One that made us all proud to be American and proud to be a part of the human race. And one that none of us would ever forget.
ONLY WOMAN FOR 25 YEARS
I worked for Marshall Space Flight Center as a summer student for 3 summers while in college (1962,1963, & 1964). When I graduated from Austin Peay State University in 1964 (with a degree in physics), I tried teaching high school for two years. I thought that I wanted to teach physics, but there was not much demand for physics classes. After two years I decided that what I really wanted was to come back to Huntsville and see if I could get back to working for NASA at MSFC. On Feb 27, 1967 I went to work for MSFC so I was very involved with the Apollo program. I had only a Bachelor’s degree and at least a Master’s or Doctor’s degree was required to be hired as a physicist. So, I was hired as an Aerospace Technologist, Electronic Engineer.
The group that I went to work for had an IBM 1130 Computer. It was the first IBM 1130 that was put out in industry. I was thrilled but knew nothing about computers. I did know what a keypunch machine was and we used ours to type out our own keypunch cards. I also knew nothing about Fortran V so the first thing that I had to do was to learn to program in Fortran V. It was an exciting time with much to learn. I always told everyone who asked what I did; my degree was in Physics, I got paid to be an Electronic Engineer, but my love was computers. I worked with the same group of guys for 25 years – and I mean men since I was the only female for all of those years. I can remember going to meetings where I was the only female there. The last years before I retired, I worked on the Hubble and other projects.
I had a great career. My son has followed in my footsteps. He is a real Electrical Engineer, a graduate of UAH, but he is civil service with the Army. I now have a granddaughter who thinks she wants to be an Astronaut. She is completing the 5th grade this year and has been to Space Camp three times, so there may be something to her goal in life. We will just have to wait and see.
Era Jean Mann
MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY PARTY
On the evening of July 20, 1969, my parents and their teenaged children had gathered around our small screen TV after a dinner celebration of my sister’s 16th birthday. It seemed to me that NASA had timed the landing as a birthday gift to my artist sister, born with stars in her eyes and dreams of far-away places and daring adventures in her heart. Neal Armstong’s small steps was certainly exciting, but watching her ecstatic happy dance was magical and equally memorable. Today my sister works for the CDC fulfilling her life-long dreams of service to mankind inspired by one memorable birthday party starring brave American astronauts and the men and women of NASA. Our family will be forever proud of the USA, the Apollo 11 astronauts and our sister.
MY FATHER MADE SURE I SAW IT
I was almost 12 and the oldest of the 6 children gathered in the bedroom. We were at a friends home and the adults were in the living room watching. Daddy and the other gentleman had worked on Saturn V. It grew late past our bedtime. We started falling asleep the littlest ones first. They had a small TV in the room for us to watch. We were spread out in the room and as my playmates started sleeping I also wanted to sleep. In those days we didn’t run out and annoy and interrupt adults. We behaved ourselves. We knew something was happening but we didn’t understand it. My father had come to check on us and to say it was almost time. I wanted to sleep. My father came back again to see that I was still awake. I shared my desire to sleep. Now I was the only child awake. No one would rouse. My father said I would regret it if I didn’t watch. And so I watched that first snowy black and white step. I laid my head down. Sleep was calling me. Daddy came back. Did you see it. Yes daddy I watched it but I have questions about it. Okay we can talk. Right now can I please sleep daddy? My greatest memory is my father’s efforts and concern that I stay awake to watch. He was right I would have regretted missing that first step.
Cindy Lee Clugston
AVOIDING STATIC CHARGE
As a math and physics graduate student in the late 1960s, I was planning on working for NASA after graduation. That did not work out, but is another story. However, in the summer of 1966, I was fortunate enough to be hired as a “Summer Student” in Marshall Space Flight Center’s Engineering Physics Section of the Propulsion and Vehicle Engineering (P&VE) Laboratory. My assigned project for that summer was to measure the electrical conductivity of several anti-static additives that were to be added to the RP-1 rocket fuel used in the S-1C (first) stage of the Saturn V moon rocket. An additive was needed to increase the conductivity of the fuel in order to bleed off the static electrical charge that built up on the S-1C due to the high flow-rate of the RP-1 when it was loaded. A static charge on the S-1C at lift-off would be very bad – if it discharged, that would produce a lightning bolt that could explode the whole vehicle. So my task was to measure the conductivities of samples of RP-1 containing various commercially-available anti-static additives, and determine the additive providing the highest conductivity to the rocket fuel. I don’t remember the brand name of the best additive, but the Apollo 11 moon mission (and all the others as well) launched without an electrical discharge, so my small contribution accomplished its goal.
EXPERIENCE AT YANKEE STADIUM
I was six years old, and was attending my very first professional baseball game at Yankee Stadium. I’m pretty sure this was a bus trip from the VFW in Kenilworth, NJ, since that is how we usually went to baseball games. It was bat day, and I got a Mickey Mantle bat, which I promptly sold to my older brother for a modest fee, as he had received a bat with the name of some lesser player. When they announced over the PA that Apollo 11 had landed on the moon, the whole stadium stood for moment of silence. i remember thinking that whatever had happened must be a really big deal to stop the baseball game! I have since read that the fans also sang America the Beautiful, but I don’t remember that. I have also read that the game went to extra innings, but I don’t remember that, either. Interestingly, although that was my first baseball game and it was Yankee Stadium, I have been a fan of the Mets my whole adult life, maybe because we were both born in 1962.
Claire Lenker, Pelham
WATCHED AT FUTURE IN-LAWS
My fiance, Don Craft, was a short sleeved white shirt, skinny black tie, pocket protector wearing member of the Apollo 11 launch team at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. He and the other team members in the firing room that day had been on duty all night. As soon as The Saturn V cleared the tower on the day of the launch, their duty was complete. Houston took over as mission control. Don drove to Orlando and boarded a plane to Atlanta where we rendezvoused for our flight to Huntsville. I was 20; he was 26. We were visiting Huntsville for me to meet my future in-laws, Elbert and Gladys Craft. We watched the moon walks on the Crafts’ RCA color console television. Despite their state-of-the-art set, the picture was oh so fuzzy. Watching the historic event with my rocket scientist fiance was thrilling. His explanations of what was transpiring made the experience even more exciting. We were married the following June and will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary on June 6, 2020. We lived in Cape Canaveral for one year and Southern California for one year before moving to Huntsville where Don worked on the Skylab project.
LISTENED ON ARMED FORCES RADIO
We were in Ankara, Turkey, where my husband, an AF lieutenant, was stationed. We all lived on the economy and had no TV so we listened on Armed Forces Radio from Germany. Service was scratchy and intermittent so we were not sure of their safety! A few months later, there was a video shown at the Officers Club. When the astronauts went on a world tour, my elementary school teacher asked if they could come to the school because our children did not have the chance to watch the landing, but the State Department who was in charge of their tour, said no. So our assistant principal loaded up our kids on school buses and took them to the hotel where the astronauts were staying. State Department guys nearly died but astronauts asked us to line them up on the lawn so they could walk down the line to greet our kids. We teachers were thrilled beyond words but the assistant principal got a reprimand in her records!