RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Rio Ranchoans recall where they were on July 20, 1969
Not everyone alive when man first landed on the moon remembers what they were doing, where they were and their understanding of Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind,” but the Observer tracked down a bunch who still recall that historic day about 50 years ago.
Here are their memories:
• Rio Rancho Police Chief Stewart Steele: “I was a young lad, only 5 years old. I remember lying on the couch with a blanket up to my neck because I had either the chicken pox or mumps — I don’t recall which. As far as the event, I don’t think I understood it all, but I knew it was something big.”
• Rio Rancho High School Principal Sherri Carver: “I was a young girl, 7 years of age, and watched the landing on our black-and-white Zenith TV in Melrose, N.M. It was on all three channels we received by our extra-high outside antenna (on a good day the channels were all clear), so I knew it had to be something really, really special for all three channels to be covering it.
“I remember watching in awe the ‘weightlessness’ the astronauts had and, of course, the next day and weeks to follow, we talked about it a lot in school.”
• Sandia Vista Elementary Principal Pat Di Vasto: “I was 14 years old at the time. My parents, my sister and I went to my aunt’s house in Brooklyn to watch this spectacular event as a family.
“My mom died from breast cancer shortly after this time, and I remember the look in her eyes. I understood later it was sadness because she realized she would not be around to see what the future would hold for the space program.”
• Lynette Schurdevin, Rio Rancho’s director of Library & Information Services: “I do remember! I was 12 years old, living in Moorhead, Minn., and my family and I were attending a barbecue with friends.
“We watched the moon landing being televised on the TV — in black in white. I was in awe that this was actually happening. I remember looking up at the moon and telling my dad, ‘Right now there is a man standing on the moon!’ He just shook his head and said, ‘It is hard to believe it’s actually happened.'”
• Former city councilor Cheryl Everett: “I had just moved back to Dearborn (Mich.) from California. My then-husband and I watched ‘The Eagle has landed’ in my parents’ basement rec room. It was thrilling and, in a way, comforting that in one way JFK (President John F. Kennedy) had lived on.”
• Tom Swisstack, former Rio Rancho mayor, county commissioner and state legislator: “I remember well July 20,1969: I was attending the University of Albuquerque in my junior year and sitting in my sociology class when we heard the news and those famous words, ‘One small step for man and a giant leap for mankind.’ I remember at 20 years old, anything is possible if we try hard enough.”
• Reinaldo Garcia, former school board member and one of the newest Hall of Honor inductees: “I was 18 years old, attending summer school at Louisiana Tech between my freshman and sophomore years. I remember seeing it on TV at the student center (we called it ‘The Tonk’) and being very much impressed with this.
“I also vaguely remember seeing (TV anchor) Walter Cronkite being practically speechless when the news and televised images of the landing came through. … It’s like as a kid — we saw all these cheesy sci-fi movies about going to the moon and couldn’t wait for it to happen, and suddenly there we were for real.
“In one sense it was anti-climactic, and in another, absolutely monumental.”
• Larry Chavez, RRPS athletic director: “I was sitting in my living room (in Las Vegas, N.M.), watching it on TV. I was 10.”
• Kim Vesely, special projects and district analyst for RRPS: “Like so many people, I saw it at home on TV. I was 15, between my sophomore and junior years in high school.
“Like all kids of the era, my brother and I grew up with the space program; I remember sitting in school as far back as third grade listening to John Glenn’s orbital flight on the radio. Still, watching Armstrong and (Buzz) Aldrin walk on the moon seemed surreal.
“Just the fact we could see it live on TV was jaw-dropping; this was well before the time when it was a given that great events were televised.
“There was this absolute sense of awe and wonder. It seems like yesterday. Wow.”
• Shayne Sawyer, Cleveland High teacher: “It was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. My best friend (we are still friends to this day) and I decided to fly to New York and hang out in Manhattan with her aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks.
“They lived on Central Park West; he was a professor, writer, lecturer, etc., and she was a professor, artist, etc. They had invited some of their close friends, and we were all in front of the TV console.
“Everyone was talking until the news program came on, and then the room was completely silent. We all watched in awe until it was over.
“Then the whole room was clapping. I was 16 at the time, and I remember being afraid that the astronauts wouldn’t be able to make it home.”
• Keith Abrahamson, Cleveland High theater tech teacher: “I was with my parents and sister at their landlord’s summer lake cottage in New Hampshire. I’d just turned 10.
“I remember spending part of the morning with my dad fishing off the little dock for sunfish mostly — maybe a perch, if we were lucky. Catching dinner wasn’t an objective.
“There was a black-and-white tube TV at the cottage with a rabbit-ears antenna, and when it came time, the four of us dropped everything and planted in front of the TV. I remember it being blurry, some vague muttered words to that effect, and the image of the landing and surrounding euphoria and wonder.
“It’s by far the most vivid memory I had of anything that year.”
• Glenn Walters, former county commissioner: “During the actual lunar module landing and Commander Neil Armstrong’s and pilot Buzz Aldrin’s walk on the moon surface, I was fortunate to be working at the Chicago Tribune newspaper. I was responsible for the ‘Wire Room.’
“In 1969, obviously before the internet, the most immediate news and media sources were provided by the three primary wire services — Associated Press, United Press International and Reuters. I, along with approximately 530 million others around the world, was able to watch the historic event live on the three TV networks.
“Additionally, I also had ‘wires’ every minute or so coming from one of the three wire services that were incredibly detailed and insightful. The six hours between the actual landing and the first steps on the moon were filled with anticipation and excitement.
“The information I had at my fingertips during that evening was incredible and perhaps similar to what the internet might provide today. I actually kept many of the original wires from that night and haven’t looked at them in the 50 years since the event — I hope to relive the event again by reading the wires once I figure out where I stashed them.”
• Dan McClarin, Meadowlark Senior Center member: “I just finished two semesters at (New Mexico State University) and my dad got me into computer programming. I had just turned 19 … my recollection was, ‘Is this real?’
(The McClarins were living in La Luz, near White Sands.)
“My dad introduced me to Wernher Von Braun (a German-American aerospace engineer and space architect) and said, ‘This man is going to get us to the moon.’ This was about five or six years before.
“(After the moon landing), my thoughts were, ‘I guess Werner Von Braun did it.’
“I sometimes think, “Did we fake it?’ Naw, it happened.”
• U.S. Sen. Tom Udall: “I was in the mountains of Colorado — working for Outward Bound, teaching wilderness and survival skills to young people. When we came out, the moon seemed so far away — what an adventure and achievement.”
• Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland: “I can’t remember where I was, but I remember seeing it on TV. I remember thinking, ‘If we can do this, we can do anything.'”
Want to hear more about the 1969 moon landing?
Melanie Templet, vice president of the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society, will present a free all-ages talk, “Apollo 11 at 50,” on its 50th anniversary, July 20, at 3 p.m., at Loma Colorado Main Library. This program is partially funded by the NASA@ My Library grant.
Merely “one small step”
(Editor’s note: Longtime Observer staff writer Gary Herron did some research to assemble this story on the Apollo 11 launch and subsequent moon landing from 50 years ago. He was a college student at the time, but admitted he can’t remember where he was or what he was doing at the time.)
Fifty years ago Tuesday (July 16, 1969) Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sat atop Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket was to use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space — and into history.
At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fired and Apollo 11 cleared the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew was in Earth orbit.
After one-and-a-half orbits, Apollo 11 got a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” — in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew was in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia.
Collins later wrote that Eagle was “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it will prove its worth.
When it came time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, Armstrong improvised, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer was sounding alarms.
It turned out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin later pointed out, “Unfortunately, it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”
When the lunar module landed at 4:18 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remained. Armstrong radioed “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mission control erupted in celebration as the tension broke, and a controller told the crew “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.”
Armstrong later confirmed that landing was his biggest concern, because “The unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong was ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than a half-billion people watching on television, he climbed down the ladder and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin joined him shortly, offering a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explored the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.
They left behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs. It read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off and docked with Collins in Columbia. Collins later said that “for the first time,” he “really felt that we were going to carry this thing off.”
The crew splashed down off Hawaii on July 24. The late President John F. Kennedy’s challenge was met: Men from Earth walked on the moon and returned safely home.
In an interview years later, Armstrong praised the “hundreds of thousands” of people behind the project. “Every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, ‘If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault.'”
In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong called the flight “a beginning of a new age,” while Collins talked about future journeys to Mars.
Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts followed in their footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission, left the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”
If America wants to return to the moon, it’s going to be pretty expensive.
NASA has been thinking about returning American astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 for a few years, but it could be pricey.
NASA will need an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years for its moon project, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently told CNN Business, requiring an additional $4 billion to $6 billion per year to the agency’s budget — expected to be about $20 billion annually.
And here’s a news flash: NASA wants that mission to include two astronauts: A man and the first-ever woman to walk on the moon.
The overall goal of this new “Artemis” program is for a sustainable presence on the moon, allowing fopr astronauts paving the way for two-way “street” astronauts to return to the surface again and again.
Once living on “another world” has been accomplished, NASA will work on its long-term mission: Putting people on Mars for the first time in human history.
Vice President Mike Pence announced in March that the Trump administration wants to speed-up NASA’s moon ambitions, and launch the first flight with astronauts in 2024 – with all the hardware that NASA needs either delayed, way over budget or not yet in existence.
Critics observed that NASA has bled billions of dollars into the space program since 2004, but humans haven’t been on the lunar surface since 1972.
The U.S. reportedly spent about $25 billion on the Apollo program, roughly $150 billion in 2019 dollars.
Some fear that NASA will end up diverting funds from its other programs, which include robotic exploration missions, Earth science and climate studies and other important scientific research.
“I think there is a strong desire. It’s bipartisan to explore, to learn, to understand the science and the history of our own solar system,” Bridenstine told CNN Business.