July 20, 2019

Apollo 11 at 50: “I was only seven years old...” — A personal reflection

David MenziesMission Specialist

Unless you were camped out on the moon, you likely know that today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

Yes, it’s been a half-century since Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon back on July 20, 1969, when the Beatles were still together and Trudeau the First was Canada’s Prime Minister.

Surely the lunar landing was the single greatest achievement of the 20th century, if not all of human history, especially given the rudimentary technology of the day.

Ah, the moon, the glorious moon. That glowing white orb that has fascinated our species since we were cave dwellers. It helped us hunt when it was full; it filled us with fear when the it eclipsed the sun; it has inspired love songs and was blamed for lunacy and in pop culture was the catalyst for the advent of werewolves. For thousands of years, the moon captivated us by its very presence; yet the very idea of actually visiting this satellite would forever remain the bailiwick of science fiction novels. Until, that is, when July 20, 1969 came to pass.

Even though I was only seven years old at the time of the moon landing, I still clearly recall the feeling of optimism and excitement that accompanied this historic achievement and the moon-mania that led up to it.

NASA’s profound project was such a welcome counterweight to other events at the time. An extremely unpopular war was being waged in Vietnam, and 1969 was the zenith of the hippie generation as many youths chose to drop out, toke up, and purposefully forget to practice personal hygiene. But with the Soviets winning the space race given their Sputnik successes, President John F. Kennedy made a commitment in 1962 that the USA would beat the USSR to the moon.

At a speech given on September 2, 1962 at Rice University, President Kennedy stated:

“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon!”

Incredible, isn’t it folks, that once upon a time Democrats actually believed in this concept known as American exceptionalism as opposed to what so many Democrats champion today, namely, socialism, open borders, and the horror of white privilege. Talk about the effects of a full moon.

But back in the swinging ‘60s, the overachievers toiling for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were busily making intricate calculations to pull off what would emerge as the most grandiose odyssey in the history of human exploration. And yes, folks, it WAS rocket science.

On the night of the moon landing, like all our neighbours on our stretch of Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto, my family watched the event in the backyard. The lawnmower’s extension cord was plugged into our black-and-white 26-inch Viking television set, which had been temporarily relocated from the living room.

When I think back, l sometimes try to piece together exactly why we chose to view the lunar landing outdoors. Maybe it was all about escaping the oppressive heat of the house/ (nobody we knew had the now commonplace luxury that is air conditioning.) Or maybe, just maybe, we wanted to experience some sort of connection with the moon by gazing upon that bright ivory orb a quarter-million miles away… and hoping beyond hope that we might just observe a teeny-tiny speck descending to the lunar surface, a steel capsule containing precious cargo – namely, those three Earthlings far, far from home.

It was a time of wonder and awe, to be sure. And given the immense logistical challenges inherent to the space program – after all, there’s more computing power in a Toyota Prius than what the Apollo mission had at its disposal – is it any wonder that when the lunar-lander Eagle touched down upon the waterless Sea of Tranquility many of those stoic men of science at ground control in Houston wept? After all, when Armstrong’s big white boot made contact with the surface of the moon, it was the achievement of the millennium.

As well, when Armstrong made his instantly famous speech – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – it was an utterance of such profound beauty that I’m hard-pressed to think of another line in English literature that comes even close to the perfection achieved by those 11 words (even though Armstrong did mean to say “a man” as opposed to simply “man” which wouldn’t have made the statement redundant.) Still, thank God Team Trudeau had nothing to do with writing that speech. Call me a chauvinist, but I just don’t think “One small step for peoplekind” resonates to the same degree…

But let’s not nitpick here. And I must say of all the famous Americans I can think of, for me Neil Armstrong came across as the most ... Canadian. He was soft spoken, reserved, and self-effacing. If anyone had earned bragging rights, it was surely this man who was the first to prance upon a patch of real estate that wasn’t part of terra firma. But he shunned the spotlight. Said Armstrong in 2000 in one of his rare public appearances: 

“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer. And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.” 

Armstrong last went public in 2010 with his concerns about President Barack Obama’s space policy that shifted attention away from a return to the moon and emphasized private companies developing spaceships. Armstrong testified before Congress, saying he had “substantial reservations” regarding a “misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.” 

Alas, whereas once upon a time NASA’s astronauts were the planet’s greatest and most courageous explorers, today cutbacks have essentially reduced them to cosmic hitchhikers.

Oh, but the memories of that magic summer of ’69 remain. Indeed, in the months leading up to the moon mission, I lived and breathed the space program. All my favourite toys were astronaut-themed, from Major Matt Mason to Billy Blastoff. And I drank copious quantities of Tang, knowing this was the beverage being consumed by Armstrong along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as they washed down their protein pills.

Most of all, I remember keeping a scrapbook. I carefully cut out every single newspaper and magazine story leading up to the lunar landing and pasted those stories into that book. Indeed, who can ever forget what is one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century taken by Buzz Aldrin of Armstrong in the Sea of Tranquility. Sure, Aldrin just missed out on being the first man on the moon by a few minutes, but because he was the one assigned to tote about that 70-mm Hasselblad camera, Aldrin would be the man to document the landing. And indeed, you can see Buzz the photographer reflected in the visor of Armstrong’s space helmet.

That glorious photo was the centrepiece of my makeshift scrapbook, a document that I kept carefully preserved for years. But much like the space program itself, my scrapbook was eventually forgotten and misplaced. To this day that scrapbook of Apollo 11 news clippings and photographs remains my Rosebud… that one item from my childhood I’d trade almost anything to have back.

On August 25, 2012, my childhood hero, Neil Armstrong, passed away. A few days later, he would be buried in his hometown of Cincinnati. It was a private affair. And in the department of cosmic coincidences, a rare blue moon was in Earth’s orbit that particular evening, a moon in which Armstrong’s footprints remain forever preserved upon the surface.

As for tonight, that great lustrous orb will be 89 per cent visible, making it almost a full moon. And should you choose to look up, waaay up, and gaze upon that gorgeous sphere, please raise a toast to NASA’s Apollo 11 team and especially that quiet and reserved engineer with the pocket protector and white socks… a man who showed a seven-year-old boy – and indeed an entire planet – that even impossible dreams can come true.

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commented 2019-07-22 21:13:52 -0400
Fifty years ago, the first human set foot on the lunar surface. To celebrate this milestone, NASA released digitally-enhanced video of that historic landing in 2009.

Here is an excerpt from my second memoir, Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), which tells of my family’s experience of that exciting event.

July 20 started out as another bright Sunday morning. Diane, Linda, and I spent several hours at the creek, picking saskatoons. We saved most of those purple berries but none of us could resist eating a few. “I’m just making sure these are ripe,” we told each other.

When all three of us had filled our small pails, we walked home for lunch. Diane and I had a difficult time keeping Linda, who was only four, from eating all of her berries, especially since we struggled with the same temptation.

The town was ominously silent as we headed home. The sky became overcast and not even a bird sang. Nobody was on the streets or in the yards either.

“They must all be inside watching TV,” Diane remarked.

I agreed and wondered aloud, “It’s so eerily quiet. It’s like the whole world is holding its breath, isn’t it?” Doubtless, everybody was waiting for the historic moon landing to happen.

Our family ate the saskatoons for dessert, topped with condensed milk and sugar. The combination of flavours was delicious and we savoured every mouth-full.

Then we settled down to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing coverage on television. Even though the set’s contrast was failing, our eyes remained glued to the screen. Walter Cronkite appeared to be on every channel and his reporting gave us the feeling of actually being at the Houston mission control.

As we watched the newscast, various experts speculated regarding what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would find once they landed. NASA installed large pads on the Lunar Module’s feet in case the moon was covered in fine dust. Some scientists speculated that the lunar surface would have collected approximately fifty feet of it over the four billion years of our solar system’s existence. Only the most optimistic people believed there might yet be alien lunar life.

The Lunar Module separated from the command module and began its descent to the surface. We watched eagerly as we saw on the screen how the moon came up closer and closer. As some scientists had predicted the ship might crash on the surface, I silently prayed it would land safely.

Finally the moment came and we heard those famous words, “The Eagle has landed.” Humanity’s first voyage to another world was a success. Then we waited as Houston made the decision to let the astronauts leave the Lunar Module. We felt thrilled as we watched Neil Armstrong descend the ladder and to hear him say, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

All of us cheered except Linda who was too young to comprehend this momentous event. We tried to explain to her that two men were walking on the moon but she still did not understand. At that age, everything is both magical and possible so why shouldn’t people be on the moon?

In addition to this account, I wrote reminiscences of many other cultural events of the sixties. While I was in Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind and at home, these milestones had a profound effect upon me. I feel certain that those of us who lived through those turbulent times, and who actually remember what happened then, will enjoy my memoir.
commented 2019-07-22 20:19:48 -0400
Thank you David for a tribute befitting the most important positive event in human history.
I was a huge science fiction fan when I was young and my favourite writer was Robert Heinlein. Something he said later in life really stuck with me. He said he was certain since he’d been a boy that he would live to see man on the moon but that he never imagined that he would live to see the LAST moon landing. He died in 1988, 16 years after the last moon landing in 1972 and to this day, we have not been back. Unless things change, he will have lived to see the last moon landing. It’s hard to think of something more disappointing after NASA’s achievement in getting man to the moon.

I still believe that our destiny as a species and a civilization is out there, in the stars. When will we start going beyond Earth orbit again?
commented 2019-07-22 11:42:33 -0400
Thank you.
Thank you for expressing the thoughts that have stayed in the hearts of millions for these last 50 years. Landing a man on the moon was not " the achievement of the millennium". It was the greatest and remains the greatest achievement of our species from the day we dragged ourselves out of the cave to look up at the moon to today, as we plan our return. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins went boldly. So too will the next generation of explorers who bravely leave this planet to see the future.

" I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
commented 2019-07-21 01:19:52 -0400
Impossible dreams…yeah…even though I was born before the space age, Menzoid, Rosebud wasn’t a sled…
commented 2019-07-20 23:29:57 -0400
As this event conjures up memories, I came to a conclusion today.
There is so much emphasis on the number of deaths occurring in Montreal and eastern Ontario due to the heat wave we’re experiencing.
Most of these people are seniors.
Thinking back to the 50’s and 60’s, the weather was no different then than it is today. The difference is, however, that in those days seniors were not living in high rise apartment buildings. They were living in houses with their adult children and grandchildren.

Maybe Climate Barbie should be considering the breakdown of the family unit and the disposal of seniors instead of her climate emergency hyperbole.
commented 2019-07-20 23:00:37 -0400
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr was killed 3 months after writing this poem.
He was 19.
commented 2019-07-20 22:58:51 -0400
Oh David, I am very touched by your wonderful recount of that famous and memorable moment. How deeply sad that you don’t have that scrapbook.
Here is a wonderful article on Buzz Aldrin’s taking Communion on that flight right after they arrived and before they walked on the moon.
There were others who celebrated their momentous event with religious ceremonies.

I truly was moved by your recall David. It brings back some wonderful memories of that day, when things seemed to be simpler.
commented 2019-07-20 19:24:02 -0400
Shove this up your ass Trudeau…Mankind is a word spoken on the moon you goofball idiot!! Peoplekind is a delusional apparition of your sick facked up head. Why are you the PM of Canada?

If it wasn’t for this great achievement for MANKIND! You would not be able to take a selfie of your sorry sick twisted ass face!!
commented 2019-07-20 19:07:17 -0400
Only other thing I can pick up on this is that Tommy was beaten by other prisoners. Sky News has clammed up on the story.
commented 2019-07-20 18:03:22 -0400
commented 2019-07-20 16:10:39 -0400
The New York Times of course had to diminish the achievement by noting the lack of diversity in the group of astronauts and the engineers that worked on putting the First Man on the Moon.
What miserable malcontents these progressives are!
Worth noting that the lead engineer of the LEM was a graduate of Sarnia Collegiate ,Sarnia Ontario .He along with other former Avro engineers contributed greatly to the Apollo program .
commented 2019-07-20 14:33:08 -0400
That was beautiful and inspiring David. I have a spotting scope that you could map the moon with…such things were very rare when I was 18…but became more commonplace because we reached for the moon. I will make it a point to look up tonight and feel the awe.

It’s a shame that Obama and his fans are passionately driven to make America mediocre.
commented 2019-07-20 14:32:47 -0400
David, David, David!……Please rephrase your Introduction…..That should read, ‘The first Person Kind’ to land on the Moon.
Poor Justin will be pee’d off. But now he has his Butt (as in Gerald) back perhaps he won’t notice.
commented 2019-07-20 12:45:53 -0400
David : I too,remember vividly that very important event.I must confess that I was considerably older than seven at the time,however…….
It did,indeed,give us great hope for the future…..considering events like the Cuban missile crisis were either very recent or ongoing,like the war in Vietnam.
We already had a “vision” of the future on television in the form of Star Trek.The reality of the moon mission gave credence to TV science fiction.You felt like saying…..we CAN do this…..and in my opinion we MUST do this.I have always felt that the future of mankind is,and always has been,based on going forth and expanding and learning.
We will outgrow this planet in many respects.This does not mean we need to abandon the planet…..quite the opposite.When mankind expanded from different areas(in the past),it meant they had a solid base to expand from.(Please note….not all expansion was a positive thing due to the origin of it’s expansion…..)
Because of our basic nature as humans,I think it is imperative that we go forward because if we attempt to stand still or revert…..we suffer for it and we will disappear.We cannot go forward,however,without having solid core values.These core values come from our history and learning which directions should not be followed or repeated by future generations.This is very evident today……
I have stated (previously) that the two most important subjects that can(and should be ) taught are physics and philosophy.Physics being the entire knowledge we have of all the physical laws of the universe(as we know them). This includes everything from engineering,astronomy,biology etc.(no pseudo science….please)
Philosophy,because mankind has to understand how they fit in with the physical laws of the known universe.
There can be a great future for our Race…..this being the human race….and the only race I am familiar with.
commented 2019-07-20 12:42:21 -0400
It was about investments, but today it seems appropriate to repeat. On January 3, 2000 in the second part of Financial Insight, the Market Outlook I wrote:

The next decade should prove very interesting. If you think that the technological advances of the last few years were something, well, you have not seen anything yet. Actually, this is nothing new; it has been going on since the cave man discovered clubs. First there were rocks, then clubs, then spears, then projectiles, then fire etc., not necessarily in that order. Think what changes were caused by the wheel. The industrial revolution has brought about a level of prosperity that probably could not have been imagined a Century ago. My mother let me stay home from school to watch one of the first manned space flights. I remember her saying that when she grew up, they could not imagine anyone going into space. I will never forget, not that many years latter, looking at the Moon with wonder knowing that the Eagle had landed and I was about to watch Neil Armstrong make his first small step on television. Computers, invented in the 1950’s, made significant gains in productivity for years, now PC’s and the Internet are revolutionizing communications and the way we do business. I just cannot imagine the next hundred years.
commented 2019-07-20 12:25:40 -0400
I do not suppose that there was ever a time, or at least there were not many times when we Canadians felt closer to the United States then July 20th 1969. On that day we were all Americans. I remember watching the fuzzy images on our neighbours black and white T.V.