It was a different world 50 years ago. We did live and lead different lives. And what a joy it is to celebrate the moon above and the earth below.
Taking a look back at where we have been in order to know where we are and where we are going is worth celebrating. And as one of my Owatonna High School classmates says, we’re above the dirt.
Fifty years ago was a different era.
NASA’s long voyage to the moon, ordered eight years before by President John F. Kennedy, reached its destination during President Richard Nixon’s watch. It was a big, hairy audacious goal (a Jim Collins phrase) that succeeded.
Apollo 11 was the culmination of an extraordinary effort by a third of a million people who all contributed greatly to its success. Three men were on the ship that went to the moon, two men walked on its surface for the first time and thousands of thousands upon thousands made it happen.
Millions watched. The lunar landing was witnessed by the largest television audience of its time, some 530 million people, 14 percent of the global population. Television made us all participants as it did for the Vietnam War, the Live Aid concert, and the tragedy of Sept. 11. (Today, billions of people tune into events and the lunar landing audience is in 82nd place.)
Apollo was launched Wednesday morning, July 16, 1969. Aboard were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. On Saturday afternoon they went into orbit around the moon. And at 4:17:42 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday, July 20, 1969, the Eagle landed on the moon.
It was at 10:56:20 p.m. EDT when Armstrong placed his 9 ½ boot upon the surface of the moon, making a man’s footprint and saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Nineteen minutes later, he was joined by Aldrin.
The pair planted a U.S. flag, deposited a container bearing messages from the leaders of 76 nations, medallions for American and Soviet astronauts who died in the learning period effort, and mounted a stainless-steel plaque reading: “Here men from planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.”
The astronauts gathered some 40 to 50 pounds of rocks for scientific study, measured the temperature outside their space suits (234 degrees Fahrenheit in sunlight and 279 degrees below zero in the shade), collected solar particles and placed two instruments.
At midnight, they returned to the Eagle and after 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon, they fired the engine and left. Back in orbit, they rendezvoused with Collins on the Columbia, crawled back through a tunnel to join him and cast loose the Eagle. The Eagle floated through space until it eventually crashed on the moon.
The trip home took 60 hours and the astronauts reentered the earth’s atmosphere Thursday. They were picked up by the Hornet, were placed in isolation, and were firmly planted in the hearts, brains and lives of American people.
The moon landing is one of those events that those old enough to have experienced have a firm memory of where they were and who and what was around them.
I was at Camp Edith Mayo Girl Scout Camp near Rochester, having finished my freshman year at Wartburg College. It seemed like a good summer job. As counselors and leaders, we brought all the girl campers into the lodge for the televised report. Some of the girls were interested, others were tired and still others just didn’t understand why they couldn’t be at the fire ring for the nightly sing-along.
Television wasn’t part of the routine at camp. And the television brought into the lodge that week was a far distant relative of today’s screens. It was tiny and the picture was black, white and mostly gray. Outdoor activities at camp that week were shortened to allow for the inside look a history. I don’t know if the girls felt cheated; some may well have.
Working at a summer camp was a time away from time. Days of the week blended together and time was kept by sessions that started one Sunday afternoon and ended 12 days later at noon Friday. Time off was four hours during the first week and the blessed Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday morning every other week between sessions.
The pay wasn’t great…4 cents an hour, we calculated. But the experience of living in an all-female world was a good one. The friendships were deep, the learning broad in that summer of dealing with children, teaching archery, horsemanship, crafts, outdoor skills and a strong sense of country and nation.
Living in a tent for the summer brought its own set of experiences. So as did long hikes, and sneaking out through the woods for a little unauthorized jaunt or two, and all the other joys and sorrows of a 19-year old.
Life was pretty carefree. The real world was far away. First-class postage was 6 cents; gas was 35 cents a gallon, and a ticket to the movies was around $1.25 to see Easy Rider, True Grit or Hello Dolly. That summer of 1969 was a small green world, far removed from daily newspapers and television.
But for several hours, the moon was under foot.