Everyone’s Gone to the Moon by
100
(129 Stories)

Prompted By Moon Landing

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Autographed photo of Buzz Aldrin with seismometer, Harvard Gazette

Sunday, July 20, 1969. “The Eagle has landed.” Hard to believe that it has been fifty years since we heard those words! Yes, I remember watching the moon landing, but my story about it has more questions than answers. Principally, what was I doing in Cambridge that weekend?

It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and I was living in Washington, D.C. with my sister and brother-in-law. They had recently bought a wonderful three-story house on North Carolina Avenue, so there was plenty of space for me there, in contrast to the previous summer when I had lived with them in a small apartment while workng for the McCarthy campaign. I had a great job at the national headquarters of Planned Parenthood. So why did I go to visit a college friend in Cambridge that weekend? I emailed the friend recently to ask her if she remembered why I came to visit, and she said no. Also, since the actual time of the landing was 4:17 p.m. E.D.T. (thank you, Google, for that information), shouldn’t I have been on a flight back to D.C. by then if I had work on Monday?

These are questions that will never be answered.

My friend was subletting an apartment in Peabody Terrace, Harvard’s married student housing. It was very hot that weekend, and the apartment either had inadequate air conditioning or none at all. One of my most vivid memories is that she kept her pillow in the refrigerator during the day so that it would feel cool on her face when she went to bed. Neither of us can remember how we found out the moon landing was happening that afternoon. We weren’t reading the newspaper or listening to radio or TV news, but somehow we knew. We turned on her small black and white television to watch it. She also called a mutual friend of ours – someone I had previously dated – to invite him over to watch with us. He was not that interested until she told him about this really nitro dope that she had, and then he ran over in record time!

We all got stoned and sat on the living room couch. We watched the module touch down and the astronauts get out. I remember hearing that line “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and thinking that the parallel construction didn’t really make sense, because “man” and “mankind” were synonymous in that context. Later I learned that Neil Armstrong had botched the line, and it was supposed to be “One small step for –a- man…” which would have been much better. (Reading about it now, I see that he says he did say “for a man” and it got garbled in transmission. However, there is some dispute about that.)

I also remember being annoyed (although I’m not sure if it was then or later) that Neil Armstrong got all the glory instead of Buzz Aldrin. Supposedly Aldrin was intended to be the one to go first, but Armstrong pulled rank on him. Buzz Aldrin was a New Jersey boy, and had even gone to Montclair High School, which is in the same town as my high school. We New Jerseyans were very proud of him. It didn’t seem fair that Armstrong received all the attention. Although maybe Aldrin got the last laugh when the movie Toy Story came out, and the astronaut toy was named Buzz Lightyear.

This year my family was lucky enough to have access to some Academy screeners, the DVDs the movie studios send out when they are trying to get Oscar nominations for a film. As a result, we saw some movies we might not have seen otherwise. One of them was First Man, which was about the Apollo 11 mission and the years leading up to it, with Ryan Gosling playing Neil Armstrong. It had not been on my list of movies to see, but we had the screener and my husband wanted to watch it, so Molly and I watched with him during her spring break. It was fabulous, far exceeding my expectations. For my husband and me, it was a reminder of events we had lived through. But for twenty-three-year-old Molly, it was a fascinating look at a piece of history she knew nothing about. I am so glad we saw it, and I strongly recommend it for anyone who is too young to remember the actual mission. Oh I know there are also a zillion documentaries, but I think this biopic might do a better job of capturing their interest.

  • * * * * *

Postscript: Everywhere we look this week the subject is Apollo 11. The Google Doodle today (July 19th) is a four-and-a-half-minute video recreation of the entire mission, from liftoff on 7/16 to the Pacific Ocean touchdown on 7/24, narrated by Michael Collins, the third astronaut, who stayed in the command module while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. Interesting quote from that video: “We thought our onboard computer was very sophisticated but in fact it had less computing power than what we all carry around in our pockets today.”

Yesterday, the ad below was in a magazine insert in my local newspaper. I was strongly tempted to buy this limited edition collectible, to give me inspiration while I was writing my story! In case you can’t read the description, it lights up, and it even plays a “sound byte” from President Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech. Don’t you wish you had one? It’s probably not too late to order. . . .

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Suzy, thanks for reminding us that Buzz Aldrin was a Jersey boy. Now I really need to see “First Man.” For all you geeks out there, the memory in that computer was about as much as could hold the first three paragraphs of text in your story. Hard to believe!

    • Suzy says:

      Marian, you should definitely see “First Man” although it focuses more on Neil Armstrong than Buzz Aldrin. Still, a great movie. And thanks for the info about the memory in their computer!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, so interesting that the official time of landing was in the afternoon, because I am certain that it was dark in Northern Michigan when we watched Neil Armstrong walk out. I can’t believe we were watching a re-run, but who knows.

    Dan and I love the space program, so saw First Man when it first came out in the theater. We thought it got unfairly harsh reviews and found it quite interesting, a real close look at the human being behind the legend of Neil Armstrong. I, also, recommend it.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, you definitely must have been watching a re-run in the evening. I’m sure the TV stations ran the footage multiple times, it was such big news.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Suzy, Eagle may have landed on the surface of the moon in the afternoon, but (again, thanks google) Neil Armstrong stepped out of the space capsule at 10:56pm EDT, long after Taps would have blown at camp. My memories of looking into the night sky are quite distinct and I talked about them years ago, as part of a group sermon given years ago at Camp. All the older divisions (boys and girls) had TVs brought into their Rec/Dining Halls and were allowed to watch that night. Camp friends posted about them on Facebook a few days ago.

    • Suzy, I’m burying my applause for your great story here – and it truly is great – to add some clarification. As I mentioned in my story this week there were two different events: the Eagle landing was in the afternoon; the “first step” was that evening. And thanks for the heads up on “First Man”

      • Suzy says:

        Tom, thanks for the clarification, about the timing of the moon walk which Betsy also discovered. Guess my memory of the event is even foggier than I thought! And thanks for the applause for my story, even if buried. 🙂

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I agree with you and Betsy about First Man. It was a pretty good flick. I love all of the details you remember surrounding the moon landing. You paint a picture of those times, the McCarthy campaign and all of the political turmoil that served as the backdrop for an inarguably patriotic moment. Also love the images you included with your story.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What I really loved about this story, Suzy, was how you blended the actual moon landing within the story of what you were doing at the time while watching it. In that regard, in retrospect – now there’s a catchy name for a website — do you think your own elevated state at the time of the viewing enhanced your experience of it or confused it? (I’ve been informed it can do either one.)

    I particularly love the Buzz Aldrin detail; I would have felt the same way about a Connecticut guy. And have also heard that Buzz Lightyear was named in homage to him. (Though, to be fair, can you imagine anything duller than a toy named Neil?)

    Finally, I must congratulate you on your foresight in choosing the moon landing as this week’s prompt. I hadn’t particularly thought about the 50th anniversary until several weeks ago and the media hype of it of late has been amazing. Besides the things you noted, NBC Evening News ran stories on it every day this past week. And, between all of these and the stories that you have generated by your prompt, I admit to having become pretty swept up in it myself — albeit without any really interesting stories myself, other than the fact that I watched it all with my family at home — I had a local summer job — and we were all in awe.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. Apparently my elevated state muddled my memory, since I thought the “one small step” came right after they landed, and apparently, according to both Tom and Betsy, it was hours later.

      Regarding Buzz Lightyear, It was obvious to me when Toy Story came out that he was Buzz Aldrin, I didn’t need to hear it from anyone. But maybe that’s my Jersey perspective showing.

      Picking this prompt to run on July 20th was a pretty obvious choice when we looked at the calendar, as was Woodstock for August 17th. It’s the weeks when there is no particular event that are trickier – which is why it was such a coup when we did Beach Reads last week, and then the NY Times Book Review did it the next day. Maybe they got the idea from us!

  5. Great recall of the landing, Suzy! I was particularly impressed with your critical analysis and semiotic deconstruction of the botched Neil Armstrong line. Of course, in them days, not many of us would have been caught up with the inappropriate nature of the ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ bit. I don’t remember where I was, or if I saw it live, but I do recall that the moon shot stirred up a pretty rousing protest over the nation’s priorities. As often was the case back then, I was caught up in a contradiction: the beauty of the science involved in the moon program versus the social implications. I also recall that I had been reading Frank Waters’ Book of the Hopi, in which he lists people messing with the moon as one of the events that prophesized the end of the end of the third world and the beginning of the fourth world. Yikes! Are we there yet? Is that what’s happening?

    • Suzy says:

      Now I would say that Neil should have said “person” and “humankind” but we weren’t there yet in 1969. And the beginning of the fourth world? I don’t know, guess I’d better read that book!

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