35 years ago today…

I was seven years old at the time,  and I remember getting woken up by my parents and being brought downstairs to where they had a great big party going on (for some reason I thought it was very late in the evening, although I now realize that it was only about 9:30 eastern time).  There must have been a dozen people clustered tightly around our TV. 

We all sat there in silence and stared at the blurry images coming from Mission Control.  Walter Cronkite was explaining what was happening in great detail. 

And then the immortal words came from the speaker.  “Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed”.  It’s one of my earliest memories and it STILL brings tears to my eyes as I remember it. 

The world literally changed that day.  We have forgotten so much of the wonder that those early explorations brought, the sense of magic that the images of a man, yes a human being standing on ANOTHER PLANET brought.  Now we get excited when unmanned robots the size of vacuum cleaners scurry over the surface of mars.  Or when a school bus sized observatory goes to Saturn. 

But it isn’t the same thing.  The visceral reaction to seeing a human being standing on a planet (or performing a space walk or repairing a telescope) adds a level of involvement that cannot be achieved by little scooters.

My thanks go out today to the crew of Apollo 11, for inspiring a generation.


Comments (6)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hate to be picky (or rather, I enjoy being picky), but strictly speaking the moon is NOT another planet.

    Personally I feel that until space exploration is a little more Star Trek and a whole lot less "guy strapped to a giant bomb", there’s no real benefit in sending people up there — it adds an additional level of cost and complexity to the proceedings for little or no gain…

  2. Anonymous says:


    Never underestimate the power of psychology though. Most people won’t be able to identify with the reason behind scientific exploration of the solar system without a person in the pod.

    With a person: It’s exploration! The final frontier! The last wild west!

    Without a person: It’s a little tank wandering around on some rock.

    The people become heroes and icons, something that generations of people grow up wanting to be just like. People end up going into the sciences to make it happen… and so on and so forth.

    Think of it as a catalyst. As they say in newsrooms across the planet, it’s all about human interest. If there’s no human interest angle, there’s no story.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Larry: Great Post. And cool memory of the day/night. I too was lucky enough to be 7 years old and my family was camping in Wyoming at the time. My dad (a bonafide space nut) checked us all into a motel in Rock Springs so we could watch the landing. He even cracked open a Coors and poured into a bunch of little motel glasses for us (all under 10) to toast, since "this was going to be a day we’d never forget".

    Mat: The argument against humans being present has been beat to death..IMHO. Regardless of your opinion on the specifics, I think it’s a good time to remember the Apollo program, it’s risks and successes. Too bad we’ve all become too jaded to not remember the excitement of 1969….maybe being 7 years old helped…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I was 10 at the time of Apollo 11. I had a cardboard sillouette model of the two parts of the lander and I would rehearse the landing and take-off by attaching string to the pieces and looping that around the structure of a table above. My mother had built the Revell plastic models of the LEM and the Saturn V, too. We had a color TV so I was a little disappointed that the Tranquility Base feed was not in color.

    I’m fairly sure Michael Collins did not have TV "up there" in Lunar orbit.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I wasn’t even born when man hit the moon, and couldn’t pick Neil Armstrong and Buzz "Second is right after First" Aldrin out of a lineup if my life depended on it. What I do know is that if the ISS didn’t need to be able to support people it would have been an order of magnitude or two cheaper, and sending your actual man to the moon has contributed precisely nothing to the world besides an overpowering sense of smugness from the US as a whole. (Note: this is not a slur against America, it’s just that macroscopically your nation seems to be stuck at a 1974 setting, and the world ain’t like that any more!)

    Psychology be damned — if you’re dead set on going in to space, be sure to spend the money wisely, and don’t waste it on trying to keep Puny Hu-Mans alive, unless you have warp drve, transporters, and everything else Star Trek had. It’s all just rocks and gas. Go find something cool!

    I don’t want to get the effort down — going from "this goes whoosh-bang" to "land a man on the moon" within a decade is pretty cool, but a) it was a war effort to show those goddamn Pinkos who’s boss, b) it was a complete waste of time and money, and c) don’t you have more important things to worry about right now?

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