Reminiscing the First Moon Landing
By Steve Roark
Being old has its disadvantages, but something I’m glad it allowed me to witness (at age 15) was the first moon landing and walk that occurred 50 years ago this month. It was one of those moments you remember exactly. In my case it was at my boyhood home in Middlesboro, Kentucky at 10:30 on a Sunday night. Me and my dad (mom was out of town) sat there watching a small black and white television totally mesmerized as these two guys walking around on another world. I remember lots of goosebumps and feeling so happy (I was a bona fide science geek by then). The 1960s were kind of a bummer, with the news continually telling us how bad things were in America: the daily death count of the Vietnam War, the racial unrest and riots of big cites, three major assassinations…there was a lot of unhappiness and uneasiness. But then came the moon landing and something to have some pride in. To me it felt hopeful because if we can do this great thing, that maybe we can solve our other problems as well. And like the Olympic games seem to do, for a little while the human race was united in something. Over 600 million people are estimated to have watched the moon walk, three times the population of the U.S. at that time.
There will be many hours of documentaries about the landing this month and if you weren’t around then I encourage you to check them out and maybe catch a little of the excitement they generated. I thought I would cover some facts that you may not hear about.
After they landed on the moon (at 4:17 p.m.) Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to do something hard. They had to take a rest break before going outside. They were no doubt on an adrenalin rush after the landing, and they were instructed to rest and settle down before going outside. Aldrin had something planned during this down time. He was an elder at a Presbyterian church and had gotten permission to take bread and wine and give himself communion. He got on the radio and spoke to the ground crew back on Earth: “I would like to invite each person listening in…to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.” Armstrong did not take part but respectfully observed the communion.
The moon walk lasted 2 ½ hours and by the time they crawled back in the lunar module they had been awake for 22 hours. When they got their suits off, they both noticed an odd odor that reminded them of burnt gunpowder, like after a firework has gone off. Turns out it was the lunar dust that had clung to their suits and was floating around in the cabin. It was so bad that when the astronauts tried to get some sleep, they had to wear their space helmets to reduce irritation of their nasal passages. They didn’t get much sleep because the ship was not well insulated, and they mostly just laid on the floor and shivered.
When they finally took off after being on the moon for 21 hours, the last thing Aldrin unfortunately saw was the American flag that they had planted get knocked over by the rocket blast. It wouldn’t have lasted long anyway, as the moon’s extreme heat and ultraviolet conditions probably faded the colors and damaged the nylon fabric over time.