It took something pretty big for me to spend most of a week in July 1969 indoors.
Not even a Wiffle Ball game in the Watson’s back yard, or a ride on my new bike could get me away from the television that week.
It had to be something big.
And it was.
That week was unlike any other in this country’s history. We were sending a three-man crew into outer space. That alone would not have kept me glued to the TV, but the fact that they were heading toward the moon is why millions of Americans, like myself, were on the edge of their recliners from liftoff, July 16, to splashdown on July 24.
It is estimated that 600 million people around the world watched the moon landing. There was so much drama associated with the Apollo 11 flight, not to mention the pure genius and manpower it took to send three men to the moon and back safely. It was truly fascinating.
There were so many unknowns with this mission. Besides the liftoff, which we found out less than two decades later with the Space Shuttle Challenger is no guarantee in space flight, these three astronauts were about to do something never before attempted — to land and walk on the moon. It’s still hard to comprehend when I look up at the moon and wonder how we ever did it.
Think about the complexity of it all. After taking off from Florida and reaching the moon’s orbit, two of the astronauts had to successfully break away in a lunar module, then find a flat surface on the moon to land that funky looking spacecraft. And as we found out later, the original location for the landing did not work because it was a large crater. So Neil Armstrong had to quickly find a new location before he ran out of fuel.
After successfully completing that portion of the mission, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out onto the moon’s surface. There were some skeptics who feared something would happen to them as they attempted to walk on the moon.
After collecting samples and finishing experiments, Armstrong and Aldrin then had to blast off from the moon in the lunar module and reconnect with the command module orbiting 60 miles above the moon’s surface. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they had to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere without blowing up and splash down in the Pacific Ocean, where they were to be retrieved by Navy frogmen.
It truly may be the greatest feat in the history of man. The precision and planning it took is truly remarkable.
And for an 8-year-old boy from New Albany, it was a come-to-life fantasy.
I kept the newspapers from the Apollo 11 mission and my family took a tour of the Kennedy Space Center in 1971 during the height of the Apollo program; we were fortunate enough to see Apollo 15 on the launch pad, ready to blast off. I was fascinated by astronauts and the skill, courage and brains it took to pull off such missions.
I still remember CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite looking on in amazement, left speechless and shaking his head as the lunar module landed on the moon. True human emotion, nothing rehearsed, which made it so real.
There have been other events that have grabbed the nation’s attention and kept everyone glued to their television sets. The first that comes to mind was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and who will forget the Friday in June 1994, when it seemed like the entire Los Angeles Police Department chased a white Bronco — occupied by football legend O.J. Simpson, who was wanted for murder — down a freeway.
But those all were negative happenings in our country’s history. During that week in July 1969, there was only joy and anticipation. We were watching history and the nation seemed so unified. That moon mission was exactly what we needed in the midst of the Vietnam War and unrest the 1960s brought to the country.
We were sending men to the moon.
It’s true we didn’t have cell phones and social media in the 1960s. We had only three or four TV channels to entertain us, which is why we spent most days outdoors or on family drives and visits. I’m curious how the moon flight would be covered today. I’m sure someone would find something negative about it.
But not in mid-summer 1969. History was being made in our living rooms and it had quite an impact on an 8-year-old boy from New Albany. We were heading to the moon, and not even mom’s meatloaf could pull me away from the TV.
Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.