Editor’s Note: As people around the world celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, East Texans shared their memories of the occasion.
Tylerite Rebecca Sanders still has a picture in her mind that she saw 50 years ago as “just a kid” of astronaut Neil Armstrong descending a ladder of the lunar module, called the Eagle, and becoming the first person to walk on the moon.
“It was so fantastic and almost unbelievable (that) I was awestruck with the whole thing,” she said.
Sanders remembers thinking how incredible it was to watch what was happening on the moon 240,000 miles away through the magic of television as it happened.
“I will always remember that,” she said. “It was something that I’m glad that I was alive to see.”
It was late at night. She was at her aunt and uncle’s house, and the family waited and waited for the big event.
Her uncle, now a retired coach and history teacher, considered watching the moon walk important enough that he gathered their five children in front of the TV, even getting a 3-year-old out of bed and trying to make sure he stayed awake long enough to see it.
Armstrong’s famous statement when he took his first step on the moon was so profound, Sanders said, that afterward she and other family members repeated it. His statement was, that’s “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“It was amazing that the U.S. was the first country to put a person on the moon,” Sanders said. “When President John Kennedy (set that) goal, a lot of people were doubtful it could happen.”
Paula White, 60, of Tyler was 10 years old when she watched the TV broadcast Apollo 11 land on the moon.
White said she was sitting on the floor with her brother while her parents sat on the couch and in the recliner at their family home in Tyler.
“The picture kept going in and out to static,” White said. “I thought they just need to jiggle the cord to make the TV come in clearer.”
She said she remembered accepting the fact that they were going to get pictures and video from the moon.
“When I look back on it, I’m fascinated we had that type of technology in 1969 to see it from home in our living room,” White said.
A SENSE OF AWE
Tylerite Marian Jackson was 15, her grandparents had come for a visit and the family was sitting around a big console black and white television on the night of the moon walk.
“We all held our breath,” Jackson said. “We had goosebumps watching this happen. Just knowing that my country had managed this, I felt a great deal of patriotic pride. The whole world was watching. I had a great sense of awe. The future of our country was being played out on TV.”
The astronauts touched down on the moon, bounced around on the lunar surface and planted the U.S. flag there.
When it came time for them to blast off from the moon, Jackson said, everybody again held their breath because then the question became “can they get home.”
“Nobody knew because it had not been tried before,” she said.
What was neat about watching the moon walk with her grandfather was that afterward he remarked about the history he had seen occur in his lifetime, Jackson said.
When her grandfather was 15, he saw the first car he had ever seen and later saw the advent of airplanes, radios and television and at age 65, he watched a man walk on the moon.
Jackson said her grandfather remarked, “It’s hard for this old man to wrap my head around all this.” The 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon reminds Jackson of his amazement over the moon walk and other development during his life.
“It struck a chord in me the history he had seen,” she said.
Jackson said the moon walk really marked the beginning of the computer age.
“We had had computers,” she said. “They were good for crunching numbers, but with this, we had so much more.”
Before the moon walk, Jackson added, computers were primitive, had little capacity and the equipment to run them was so big it filled a building.
“The moon walk kicked off so many things that we hadn’t dreamed of doing,” Jackson said.
‘IT WAS CHILLING’
Judy Hopson, 77, of Chandler said she worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph in 1969, but remembers being home and watching the Apollo 11 land on the moon.
Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, but landed on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969.
“I was thinking, ‘oh my gosh how could they do that,’” Hopson said. “And, when the words ‘one small step for man’ came across it was chilling.”
Hopson said she watched from her home in Tyler with her husband and two young daughters.
Bob Peters, 78, of Tyler, was working at the Tyler Morning Telegraph the day man walked on the moon.
He recalled there was a small TV in a room adjacent to the newsroom and staff members would walk back and forth from their desks to watch the developments.
Peters was responsible for writing some of the headlines that night and said he got a key fact wrong.
He used 9:56 p.m. as the time for the start of the moon walk, but everyone else in Central Standard Time was reporting 9:57 p.m. Peters had used his watch and it was off.
Staff members realized the mistake and corrected it for the second edition of the paper, which was delivered to subscribers in the city. However, those subscribers who lived in outlying areas had the wrong time.
Peters said he also remembers when calling around to get comments about the occasion for a story, one person he talked to “thought the whole thing was a fraud” and that it was happening in West Texas.
Jesse Cordell, 82, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who recently visited his daughter in East Texas, said he remembers his wife and two young daughters sitting around the TV in their East Texas home and watching the news coverage of the Apollo 11 mission.
The picture flickered and flipped back and forth from static to the images of the astronauts on the moon.
“I couldn’t wait for it to land,” Cordell said. “It was unbelievable that anyone could do that.”
Cordell said he remembers the speculation of it being a conspiracy and covert government operation.
Dr. Tom Hooten, of Tyler, was 9 and sitting in his grandmother’s lap when he watched the moon walk live on a 19-inch black and white television.
Before the moon walk, Hooten recalled, “My mother, sister, grandmother and all acted like a guest was coming over and we had to get ready. The next evening after watching it on TV, I was playing outside and noticed the moon. It looked pretty much the same as always, but somehow it was more familiar.”
In retrospect, Hooten said, “It was a historic moment and I’m glad my family thought enough of it to make sure we all had a chance to see it. There will never be another first person walking on the moon.”
Looking back, Hooten said, “It sure seems like the moon landing was a highlight in our national history that brought the world together, even if just for a short time, and showed everyone that the USA was the world leader in science and engineering.”
He added, “Hopefully, we and our policy makers recognize that maintaining that leadership is important to our nation and our continued freedom.”
Hooten said, “As a person that earns their living doing and teaching science, I know there aren’t many people I encounter in the fields of engineering and science who were not positively affected by the moon walks. To those who have a career in the sciences, the moon walks were an inspiration.”
Hooten lamented that politicians in the early 1970s lost the will to build a moon base.
“I think we should do that and more,” he said.
Hooten pointed out that NASA’s current budget is only one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget. At its greatest, it was a little over 4 percent of the total budget.
For that, Hooten said, the nation got the moon, multiple space stations and probes to every known planet in our solar system, including the sun and several asteroids and comets and multiple satellites to study Earth, the atmosphere, oceans and lands and more, especially when partnering with other international spacefaring nations besides the aeronautical side of the NASA world.
Interviews by LouAnna Campbell, Betty Waters and Emily Guevara