July 20th, 1969 remains a most wonderful memory, not only for our nation, but also for what unfolded that day in my grandparent’s living room. Today the world is one in memory regarding what is, without doubt, the most amazing feat ever accomplished by mankind. The landing of humans on the moon.
My family gathered in my grandparent’s Hancock, Wisconsin living room that evening where the large black and white console TV allowed us to watch history unfold on the moon. I was the youngest in that room, but at the age of seven, I can still recall my heart was on the moon that night. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon it was something akin to a miracle. So far away, and yet man was there!
Later that evening as we walked back across the road to our home my brother, Gary Humphrey, joked that the dark shadows on the moon were the dust being kicked up by Armstrong. I was still young enough to think perhaps he might be correct. It was a wonderful time to be a kid.
I recall vividly Walter Cronkite reporting that story of what was about to happen, making it so real that even a boy could understand, and be awe-struck. In time Cronkite would be as memorable a figure to me from that time as Armstrong.
As a young boy, it was the biggest and best adventure possible, to be recreated many times afterward in the backyard with the picnic table made with my father’s hands serving as the space ship. There I was, positioned underneath with my legs up in the wooden frame much as the astronauts were on their backs for traveling through space. It is amazing that the wooden table never burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere. White pine is durable!! (NASA should look into that!) Walter’s voice of the events would be unfolding and echoing in my head as I moved slowly to impersonate the gravity-free conditions that the famed astronauts encountered.
The Apollo program and those brave men who journeyed to space on rockets of flame were my childhood heroes. But so was Cronkite, with his authoritative voice which allowed us all to be so informed. One of the things I still recall about Cronkite was that he seemed as excited as I was over the events. Later in life I would come to understand that he was!
My grandparent’s home produced many memories for me in my childhood. They lived across the road from my family out in the country, and since we did not have TV while I was a young boy, it was a pleasure to head over the road to watch the big events, such as the moon landing. The astronauts would change, as would the number of the Apollo mission, but the anchor of the CBS News broadcasts stayed ever-present and informative. Cronkite was as much a fan of the unfolding drama as we were in that living room. I recall a Saturday morning as if it were yesterday that Walter Cronkite explained with a plastic model of the moon buggy about how it would operate, and what precautions needed to be taken to ensure its successful movements on the lunar surface.
I sat there in rapt attention, and Grandma true to form for these big occasions, would have chips or cookies to nibble on. She sat in a larger chair off to the side and behind me, while I sat on the sofa and we would watch Walter.
There is less mystery and excitement–or so it seems to me–for kids today when it comes to the space program. Not that there are no missions to follow, or untold questions to be answered. But with so much technology in our homes and video games to dazzle, I suspect there are no kids these days pretending to be scientists aboard the space station. I strongly suspect no picnic tables are also serving as space capsules.
Times have changed, but the real heroes of the space era must still be honored. With deep respect, I offer thanks to Neil Armstrong for all that he gave to mankind. And to Uncle Walter for bringing science and space into our homes with as much enthusiasm as we were feeling.