Apollo 11: Remembering One of the Most Important Moments in Human History

July 14, 2014

This guest column is part of a two-part blog series on UA's involved in the Apollo 11 mission. Also read "Apollo 11: Reaching for the Moon." The package is part of UANews coverage on the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's historic involvement with NASA missions. Also view "A Photographic History of the UA's Role in NASA Missions" and "Next-Generation Researcher Helps Continue UA Space Legacy."

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of NASA's Apollo 11 mission, descends the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module, becoming the first human to step foot on the surface of the moon. (Photo credit: NASA)

 I was about a month shy of my 9th birthday the day the Eagle landed on the moon.

I was already a space geek, but I just didn't know it yet. I had a John Glenn lunchbox when I went off to my first day of school. I drew pictures of rockets and astronauts, along with Superman and other things.

My dad was in the U.S. Coast Guard, freshly back from Vietnam. He was stationed in Sault Ste. Marie, a city in Michigan, and we lived in a house that overlooked the eastern approach to the Soo Locks. There, we got to watch the big ore freighters on their way between Lake Superior and destinations elsewhere in the Great Lakes. We went down to Kincheloe Air Force Base to visit friends and do our grocery shopping at the commissary and watched the TV coverage of the landing of Apollo 11 while at our friends' house there. 

I don't remember too many details of the landing, but I sort of remember the primitive graphics and some narration by the newscasters to keep us informed about what was going on up there. I think we watched ABC, since I remember Jules Bergman telling us about the activities a quarter million miles away.

I remember that night very well. 

I got to stay up really late for the very first time. The moonwalk was moved up in time, instead of having a rest period after the landing. But as we watched the television coverage, it was taking much longer for the moonwalk to begin as the night progressed.  At one point, we went outside and I looked up at the nearly quarter-phased moon in the sky and thought: "There are actually people up there on the moon right now!"

Finally, a fuzzy picture appeared on our black-and-white Zenith TV and, eventually, we could see the ghostly image of an astronaut going down the ladder.  Were the fuzzy images due to our old TV set or because they were being beamed back to Earth from 240,000 miles? Probably both, I concluded.

I sat on the floor in front of the TV and was in awe as I watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk around on the moon. It was a life-changing event. These guys, and the 10 other guys that followed them to walk on the moon, were doing the impossible. It made my dreams seem way more realistic and opened my eyes to the wonders of science and the universe. 

Without Apollo, I don't know what I would have ended up doing with my life. To this day, I thank anyone who I encounter who had any part in the space program in the 1960s – be it one of the actual moonwalkers or a flight controller or even one of the ladies who helped make the spacesuits or heat shield – for the inspiration they contributed to. 

What a wondrous time it was to watch.

Jim Scotti, a senior research specialist with the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, works with the Spacewatch project and is an Apollo aficionado. Scotti's research interests are in the origins and evolution of coments and trans-Neptuinan objects and the distant solar system. (Portrait by Lori Stiles)