Where were you on July 20, 1969? I put that question to my friends and family last week and I got a wonderful collection of answers. A common element in all their stories was a small, scratchy (typically borrowed) black & white TV set, with a large group of people, crowded around to watch the flickering images of the first walk on the moon. Breathlessly.
I was 11 years old and a camper in the Feather River Canyon in California, attending a two-week summer camp. Apollo 11 landed at 4:18 pm EDT, so that would have been 1:18, California time, just after lunch. I remember crowding into a room behind the camp’s dining hall with a hoard of other people, straining to see the small black and white TV screen. The only broadcast they could receive in that remote location happened to be in Italian (go figure) and so, between the scratchy image and the fact that no one present understood Italian, we had to piece together and narrate what we were seeing. I can remember the distinct feeling that this was history in the making. This was something special. And this was something that I would always remember.
At 10:56 EDT, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and the world watched. Buzz Aldrin, emerged soon after. Over 2 ½ hours, the two astronauts collected 47 pounds (!) of lunar surface material and re-entered the lunar module.
Just as the folks at the John F. Kennedy library hoped, their re-creation web site, We Choose The Moon, is tuning Americans into their memories of the historic mission. This is a wonderful site, well worth the visit. It’s a real-time mission reenactment, tracking the actual mission events (with historic images and footage), just as they happened 40 years ago. You can follow newsroom feeds, monitor the flight path, get updates from mission control (via twitter or from the Mission tracker widget on your web page or social media site). It’s a very good example of the kind of teaching that can be done with new technology. My only gripe about it is that they missed the opportunity to make it a 2.0 site by failing to invite people to share their memories and embellish the site with their perspective. Too bad.
After you’ve taken a look at that site, take a look at some of the other, amazing online treasures in NASA’s vaults and others – it’s just incredible, what’s available online. NASA has just released newly restored Apollo 11 footage – excerpts really – from the take off, to the landing, and the lift-off back to earth. You can find it in this New York Times article, along with a hilarious “hoax” video (scroll down to find that one) – and, yes, apparently some people still think that the whole thing was a hoax. And, in case you wanted to compare, here’s the actual landing footage (pre-restoration).
Here’s a QT movie of the mission, put together by NASA. And the official NASA site on the history of the mission. NASA has also posted the private taped conversations between Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, recorded aboard the command module, Columbia, and the lunar module, Eagle, along with an audio database of other recordings.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11 site has lots of information on the mission, the crew, the spacecraft, the landing site and some amazing images.
To get a better sense of the lunar landscape, here’s a QTVR image scape of the moon taken by Apollo 17 and first published on anniversary #35 of Apollo 11. Use your mouse have a look around and around and around.
Unfortunately, as we learned from NPR this week, NASA isn’t the best steward of history. Check out this 7.16.09 story explaining how the original tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk probably destroyed during a period when NASA was re-using old magnetic tapes to reuse them for satellite data. The newly restored video that I mentioned earlier was actually pieced together from a variety of sources, the best of the various broadcast clips.
Discovery Channel has an impressive archive of videos of the various NASA missions – lots of fun to explore there. Just for fun, you can pick up a Lunar Module service manual or a space suit replica (for $9,500) on eBay.
The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s inspirational goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960’s. But it did so much more for all of us. It gave us the first images of the Earth, taken from the moon. Images that undeniably changed our perspective on our fragile planet and the need for stewardship. The mission showed us men, closely encased in technology, operating dials, levers and computers to sustain their lives in an inhospitable environment. The mission gave us courage to strive for things that might seem unattainable. It made us explorers again.
When I asked my good friend, Louise, what she was doing on July 20th, 1969, she described the same scratchy black and white television that everyone else seems to remember and then went on to relate how she walked outside and looked up at the moon, marveling, and feeling a little, well, bereft. She reminded me of the Shelley poem…
And, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass.
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?
…And I felt the sway and tug of it, right along with her.