Looking back First moonwalk left lasting impression

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moon walk
Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph on the lunar surface taken by fellow astronaut Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the moon. The 50th anniversary of the moonwalk is July 20.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

There are a handful of historically significant experiences that stand above all other events in our shared identity as Americans. These are the moments we always remember. Despite the passage of time, we still respond in great detail when someone asks “Do you remember where you were when. . . .”
This month, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of one such defining moment: The first moonwalk, which took place on July 20, 1969. At 9:30 p.m. CDT, astronauts Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin put on their bulky moon suits, wriggled out of a square opening in the lunar module, and backed down a ladder onto the moon’s surface. Back home, 600 million people watched as Armstrong took those first steps and spoke these memorable words: “That’s one small step for man. . .one giant leap for mankind.”

I was a 14-year-old, self-absorbed soon-to-be high school freshman. I was visiting a friend and her parents insisted we joined them in the living room to watch the grainy images beamed back to Earth from a distance of nearly 239,000 miles. I’ll never forget that moment and neither will anyone who shared it. Here are what some area residents remember about that historic evening.

Bob Garms,
retired teacher
We were living in Colo, and had just gotten married. I was going to help my wife do the dishes so we could go to her folks house to watch it. We didn’t have a TV. I also remember saying to her “All these dishes for one lousy meal?” That didn’t go over—but the moonwalk was amazing. I often wished it had happened during the school year so more kids would’ve seen it.

Sue Gnagy,
retired teacher
I was in the midst of planning our wedding and getting ready for grad school when our neighbors in Davenport invited me to come to over to their house to watch the moon landing because they had a color TV. I remember feeling so anxious for the astronauts and feeling connected to John (my husband of 50 years) who was in the Army in Georgia since we were viewing the same telecast. We could both go outside, look at the moon and remember this world-changing event together though we were so far apart.

Bob Griffith,
former Register owner
When I was a kid in the 1950s I followed the development of rocketry closely and dreamed of helping build those wonderful machines. I was glued to the television as the astronauts traveled to the moon, touched down and returned. A less enthusiastic friend commented, “What’s the big deal? Buck Rogers has been flying around in space for years?” Much later, Jane and I visited in Florida where we saw and felt the shock waves of a shuttle launch. The next day we toured the Kennedy Space Center and stood next to a Saturn V moon launch vehicle. It was huge. It was humbling. It gave hope.

Ruth Olson,
longtime Elkader resident
I don’t remember exactly how I felt—it was quite a bit ago—but I know we watched it, and we probably felt a great sense of awe. It was an unbelievable thing.

Pat McTaggart,
Register freelance writer
Like hundreds of millions of people around the world, I was glued to the television on July 20, 1969. I had turned 20 barely a month ago, and here I was, witnessing one of the most important events in the history of mankind!

Being a student of history, I found it amazing that it was only 63 years earlier that the Wright brothers had made that first flight that lasted only 12 seconds and went 120 feet, and only eight short years ago that President Kennedy announced his intention of putting an American on the moon before the end of the decade.  Now, we were about to fulfill that ambition.

No one really knew what the Astronauts would find as they sped towards the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Would they land in a previously unknown crater, covered by moon dust? Even the usually calm and confident voice of Walter Cronkite seemed filled with some tension as he reported minute by minute on the progress of the mission.

Finally, at around 3:30 in the afternoon, a voice came over the TV. It was a live transmission from the spacecraft to NASA  When the words “Houston.  Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.” came through, the NASA technicians, as well as Cronkite himself, broke into a cheer.
It took an excruciating 6½ hours of preparation before the hatch on the Eagle opened and a ladder was extended to the surface. At 9:56 p.m., Eagle commander Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, covered by cameras on the spacecraft. The words he uttered as he stepped down still resonate.  “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

For the next 2½ hours we were sat mesmerized as we watched Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin cavort on the lunar surface, collecting rock samples and moon dust.  One of the highlights of the mission was planting the American flag on the surface. I can still see Aldrin as he saluted the flag, with the blackness of space as his backdrop.

1969 saw the country being torn apart by the Vietnam War and racial strife, but I think that moment brought us all together, if only briefly. For that, if for nothing else, almost everyone was proud of the country and proud to be called an American.

Jay Moser,
retired pharmacist
I remember watching a very grainy image on a black and white TV. I was so excited. I thought “Here we go, we’re going to the planets!” I thought for sure we’d go to Mars and Venus…well, maybe not land there but circle them and take awesome photos.

Sue Stott,
retired teacher
On July 20,1969, I was home from college for the summer and I must say keeping abreast of national news events had not been my top priority in school. I was just trying to pass my French and Biology classes. Space flight did seem “out of this world”—to actually be attainable—and space stations were just hard for my mind to wrap around. However, with a ship patriotically called the “Eagle,” landing in the “Sea of Tranquility” and keeping up with the Russians, this event did have its appeal. Realizing two men had actually blasted off from Cape Canaveral four days earlier and safely landed on the real “man in the moon” moon, I felt pride for our country, awe for the skilled scientists/engineers, and extreme panic of how on earth they were going to make it back home again safely to their families. Neil Armstrong’s famous words still hold intrigue for me. How fitting that phrase is for so many parts of our lives in any new beginning.

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