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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

To the Moon

I can't believe it's fifty years since Apollo 11 blasted off for the moon. I was a total NASA-junkie back in those days. I would watch every astronaut launch, even getting up early on a school day to watch the doings at Cape Canaveral/Kennedy. Great era.

I had spent sleepless nights worrying about the impending July 16, 1969, launch of Apollo 11. Would the weather cooperate? Would technology fail? Would the Soviets launch something to the moon a day or two before? I sat by the phone waiting for NASA to call if they needed any advice. I was living, at the time, in Downey, California, home to North American Aviation (later Rockwell) where much of the Apollo and Gemini spacecraft were built. The whole city was space crazy. I loved the space program. I still do, well, sort of. Let me explain.

But first, the moon landing. I recall that July 20; it must have been around noon in California. I was drifting on a rubber mattress in our pool. My father had wheeled-out the black-and-white TV set to the backyard so we could watch the landing. I remember vividly, a few hours after the landing, watching the grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong stepping out of the lunar lander and onto the moon's surface and later planting the US flag. I also remember my father, not generally a very emotional or expressive man, with tears streaming down his face, standing up and applauding, yelling in his immigrant accent, "America! America! America can do anything!" I also remember cheers going up from the neighbors' houses on either side. It seemed every house on the street suddenly sprouted an American flag. A great day.

The space program was one of those (few) things that the government did well. Sort of. That landing on the moon, and the subsequent ones, as well, I found immensely inspirational. To watch American astronauts driving a car on the moon was insane! Nobody else could have done it. NASA really was using the most extreme form of technology available; a lot of it was untried, experimental to the nth degree. Yet, overall, it worked, and there were some amazingly brave men who willingly staked their lives on that equipment, and had faith in the hundreds-of-thousands of fellow Americans who had worked to develop it.

After the thrill of the moon landings, it became sadly clear there was no second act. Not really.

We had beat the Russians to the moon. And that was it. There was no exciting second chapter. In later years, we messed around with the Space Shuttle with no clear idea of what it was we intended to do in space, well, at least, not with man in space. The Shuttle program gradually petered out, it having no third chapter,  and . . . the great void followed. The government and the public seemed to lose interest in manned space exploration.

I hope we get back into space in a bigly way. To Mars! It's needs an American flag . . . maybe a Betsy Ross flag?


  1. Your story about your dad is wonderful. I am with you on space! One of the sad disappointments of life was that those excursion trips into space - even just into an earth orbit - never came to be.

    The Presidents since then didn't have the vision. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." And we very nearly have.

    But NOW we finally have a President of vision again! Space Force, and new exploration! Let's do it! Let the young men & women who've been fighting these interminable wars have a new way to serve & put Betsy Ross's flag on Mars!

  2. I`m 68 and (vaguely) remember the landing. As Wordsworth said, ``What a joy it was . . . `` What I find very depressing is that one of mankind`s greatest achievements is getting less notice than the Stonewall riots. I guess we don't do space anymore.

  3. NASA then: built a moonshot in a decade...
    NASA now: can't design a new space suit given a ridiculous budget and 30 years.

    Too many bureaucrats funneling too many dollars to too few contractors.... nothing can get done in such a way.

    Spacex showed them how it's done, and NASA has been smarting from the spanking ever since.
    SLS? What's that? That's the rocket that's supposed to match spacex's BFR specs, but cost 100x more and launch two decades later.

    And for the grand finale.... (and I think I've moaned about this here before).. the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), where contractors are given bonuses for delaying completion.... where "thirty years late" is going to become 'the norm'.

    JWST!!!!! Perhaps *the* worst government project of all time. Any offers of competition? Because JWST certainly beats it on the poop-for-buck scale. It beats the F-35 hands down or the Ford class super carriers. It might even never launch... and if it does, who's going to bet on taking any useful data...

    - reader #1482

  4. We traded the stars for the Great Society redux. We chose pporly.

    Thank hyou very much Richard Nixon.

  5. This video is wonderful. 20 minutes of Apollo 11 descent and landing. Audio and video, and some explanation added.


    1. Oh thank you! You're right, it is wonderful....

      To the stars, by hard ways....

    2. Just watched the entire video.




  6. Thanks for your reminisces Dip. Especially those your Dad figured in. Reminded me of another Dad. With pretty much, the same tears. His though were tempered by his experiences at sea in the early years of the previous decade. Whether "more meaningful" I rather doubt but you're aware Neil Armstrong was a Naval Aviator?

    As it happens my Dad was Navy enlisted served aboard smaller ships during WWII but then got recalled for Korea where he served aboard carriers. He was then a Yeoman - what I suppose for readers unfamiliar with sea-stuff, one of the many who did the more mundane task of paperwork. It takes all kinds to run a ship.

    But shortly after that "One small step" my Dad got into some old paperwork he'd done that mentioned earlier decade. As it happened Lt. Armstrong was required to do an after-action report following a 'collision' he'd had with some flak over North Korea. And the recording person? Yep.

    And that report will be going back into my safety deposit box after my nephews visit to read it (they can fight over it after I'm dead but until then its mine).

    I don't often do book recommendations on blogs but seeing as we're paying tribute I'll make an exception:


  7. I am 57 years old. When I think of all the things I was promised that the future would hold, back when I was a wee small Badger, I feel as is I have had something very rare and precious stolen from me, my future, which is now, alas, my past. Just so the money could be funneled of to buy votes.

  8. Aunt Helen and uncle Sid lived on Dolan in Downey at the time. Sid worked for North American along with his son, Johnny. I was in Maryville, Tn at the time of the landing watching on a grainy black and white. Good times.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Your Dad wasn't the only one with tears streaming down his face when that incredible landing on the moon happened.

    I had the tremendous good fortune to have a tiny part, an infinitesimally small part, of that historic endeavor. I was serving in the USAF in Wiesbaden, Germany, where at that time the HQ of the USAF in Europe was located; the comms for the moon landing went through my shop. With permission of my CO, I recorded the landing on 10" reel-to-reel tapes with my Akai recorder, and we all got copies.

    What a day to remember! Everyone was cheering, and (totally against regs) our CO bought us all a beer! I've always been proud of my country, but that was like a dozen 4th of Julys all rolled up into one!

    1. Same here. My dad was career USAF, assigned to the SIGINT unit there. I was quite young but I sure remember my mom getting us up to eatch that grainy footage.

  11. The landing happened on my 22nd birthday. My Dad, and old man-o-warsman, was so excited he poured me a Scotch (something he had never done). I remember this well.

  12. When I was in elementary school a teacher named Mr. Santangelo would set up TV sets in the cafeteria and 4th through 6th grades would watch the various take offs and landings. Mr. Santangelo would always say "now pay attention to this. History is being made." My favorite part was the re-entry and splash downs. Lord! That was high drama and I loved it.
    I was in summer camp during the first moon landing. No one seemed interested in watching it so I sat alone in the rec. room watching. I thought of Mr. Santangelo, "now pay attention, history is being made."

  13. The Apollo 11 Moon landing the birth of my first sibling are my earliest memories for which I can attach an actual date. My oldest sister was born the day Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida- I have a vivid memory of my father and I picking my mother and new sister up at the hospital and taking them home (this was the day after the birth, I think). I also have a clear memory of watching the landing and first walk on the television, though the memory is instilled because of my father's reaction of awe to the entire event- that is what I remember most clearly. Of course, I have much more solid memories of some of the later landings in 1971 and 1972 in which I had a real understanding of what was going on, though maybe not an appreciation for what an achievement it was.

  14. Roger that Dip~~~

    << Flashback 1969:
    In a Bar, glued to the wee TV on the backbar, watching footprints being made on the Moon! I was the only one watching, and nobody was listening, the sound was off! "THE EAGLE HAS LANDED", it read~~~

    >> Fast Forward 2019:
    The wee hours at my desk pecking at my laptop ~~~
    Planning my moves to collect my daughter the microbiologist's gear for transport to her new digs... as she and her Team are down at the Cape doing experiments on the effects of microgravity on microbiomes etc etc etc~~~

    NO intell, just wondering, if and when, the Donald will announce that the USA will return to the MOON to construct a forward base, on the high ground, for future voyages to Mars and the Stars? Am I dreaming~~~ ;) MAGA!
    On Watch~~~
    "Let's Roll"

    1. I'm done with presidents announcing what we're going to do in space... announce it when it's been completed... because it's just been 50 years of empty words.

      - reader #1482

  15. I just watched a 4 part series by Bill Whittle on the space program, highlighting Apollo 11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L_11fggn0Q
    This is totally worth watching. Way better than any televised documentary.

  16. Guys, there is a lot of truth that the Americans were the first on the moon, but back in WW2:


    However, they tried to hide the fact and removed the evidence:


    But all that is irrelevant. What I want to know about and and have explained by experts is why there is a statue of Elvis on Mars? Or is it the REAL Elvis covered in red Martian dust, eh? People want to know, you know.


    If it appeared in the Sunday Sport, you KNOW it was true …

    Phil B