The Apollo 11 lunar landing was a global event. Please share your thoughts with us regarding this remarkable event.
I loved the space race and read and watched everything I could find about our astronauts, cosmonauts, rockets, and satellites. Now I was watching the first men to ever walk on another heavenly body. The USA completed the challenge set out by the late President John F. Kennedy. I was able to record this remarkable moment with my 35 mm camera. Unfortunately, the pictures did not turn out very well. But the images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon are burned into my memory forever.
Drafted into the US Army, I was in 'Basic Training' at Fort Ord, California.
The entire ~400 Company lined up on the street for muster, ready to be transported to a Sunday rodeo in Monterrey. I alone raised my hand in the formation and, mentioning the billions of tax dollars, what about the moon landing later that day? I was marched off to the orderly office and sat alone watching the only b&w TV available. My best day in the Army.
My earliest aerospace memories are that of my father working in our home town of Downey California. My father worked on the Apollo Program at North American Aviation, Space Division. He worked on the Apollo Capsule. He worked in Logistical Support; in today’s terminology it would probably be called Supply Chain Management. He was responsible for ensuring parts arrived on time in support of Apollo, this is different from an expediting job. This was more of the master planning that takes place in a complicated system. The definition is: Procurement and distribution of equipment, facilities, spares, technical information, and trained personnel, essential to the proper operation of project. He was very proud of the contribution that he was making on the Apollo Project. He worked real long hours and we would not usually see him until late in the evening around 7 pm. He was not a drinking man, but he loved his sports, so after dinner, he would smoke a cigarette and watch sports and read the paper. With us kids, he did not really talk much.
Each Apollo Capsule that was being fabricated at the Downey plant was baby sat by the prime crew of the Astronauts assigned to her. They would often visit with the fabricators on the production lines. This effectively communicated to the workers that it was these Astronauts whose lives were on the line, dependent on the workmanship and attention to detail of each line worker and engineer. I later spoke with some of these line workers and, yes, the Astronauts did develop relationships with them and they had fond memories of those encounters.
Several of the Apollo Astronauts were an integral influence into the design on the Capsule during the initial stages of its inception. Notably Gus Grissom, as a result of the ill-fated launch/recovery of the Mercury-Redstone 4, which Gus named Liberty Bell 7. At splashdown, the hatch blew open and water rushed in. As the helicopter attempted to lift the capsule up out of the water, it was too heavy and so the helicopter was unable to retrieve it. Gus was rescued, but the Liberty Bell 7 capsule was lost. He later flew Gemini 3 and then was assigned to the Apollo program, Gus was very prominent in the Block I Capsule design of the Entry/Egress hatch. It is sad to note that it was the design of that very hatch that contributed to his death in the capsule fire of Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967. The hatch opened inward, as the astronauts attempted to open the hatch; they were fighting the pressures of approximately 29 psi. Now, given the door was approximately 42 X 30 inches that would be 1,260 square inches at 29 psi, which means it would take an effort of approximately 36,540 lbs of force to pull the door open. I was only 5 at the time, but I do remember my father being devastated when it happened. He said that many at the Downey plant took it real hard. Dad later said that he and every one he knew on the program experienced many deep sessions of self-evaluation because of Apollo 1.
I remember being lucky to watch every launch that was televised. When we watched Apollo 11, I was six years old and that summer evening at my grandparents’ house is etched in my mind. We were in the family room and I was lying on the floor as thick clouds of cigarette smoke swirled overhead from my parents and grandparents smoking. We all watched with much anticipation for Neil Armstrong to pilot the LEM to a safe landing on the moon. I remember a little panic as some alarm went off, I looked up at my father as to say, “dad help them land”. We then were breathless as we watched Neil begin to descend down the ladder, he is at the base and now to step foot on the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Yes, that famous quote of Neil Armstrong as he said his first words standing on another body in the heavens. Mankind has now escaped this planet we call Earth and set foot on another heavenly body! We were all transfixed on what was happening right before our eyes, can it really be, yes, man was actually walking on the moon! Then as we were all watching, straining to hear every word expressed from these moon explorers, Walter Cronkite continued with his commentary talking over Neil and Buzz and mission control. Why can’t this talking head shut up for just a few minutes so the world can take it all in? We know the magnitude of the event; we do not need him to point it out. So, what were Neil’s first observations of the surface of the moon? Can anyone quote the next words after his “small step” quote? No, that is a bit more difficult because of ol Wally could not keep his trap shut. Well, these were Neil’s next words, “Yes, the surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.”
We were all right there with him, enjoying all the sights and sounds of exploring this brave new world. We have all read in the history books about the great explorers like Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, James Cook, Leif Eriksson and the others of the likes of Louis and Clark, but now, we are watching these great explorers Neil, Buzz and Michael, right in the comfort of our living rooms! One of man kind’s greatest achievements and it was broadcasted live on TV. I am still in awe of it to this day.
Wow, to think of it, it was on my father’s shoulders as well as the shoulders of over 400,000 other’s that Neil, Buzz and Michael were standing on, that helped them get there. Even while working the long hours to get man to the moon, dad still found time to take us camping, fishing, to Dodger games, coach baseball and the many other little things that dad’s do.
After each Apollo mission, the Astronauts would visit the Downey facility to inspect the capsule and visit with the workers who designed and fabricated their spacecraft. Upon arrival by helicopter, just as they had done when arriving on board the aircraft carrier after splashdown, their first steps back were painted with the outline of their shoes. Downey would duplicate that with a similar ceremony. My dad enabled me to witness these events as a 6, 7 and 8 year old. The Downey plant continued the foot print ceremony well on into the shuttle program. Years later, when I was working at the same facility, I also witnessed it for Shuttle astronauts.
One thing I remember that really made me wonder, when the rocket was blasting off the pad, the Capsule was white, but now that it is back here, why is it all brown? I could see the silver pattern of a honeycomb, but did not know why it was like that and why no more white? It was only later that I realized the white were only strips of thin aluminum that covered the outside of the Capsule and it was painted white, but they burned away after re-entry. The capsules that were only flown in orbit retained much of the white because they saw less re-entry heat, whereas those that were flown to the moon and back were seeing higher re-entry temperatures because of higher re-entry speeds. The brown was phenolic resin impregnated with powdered quartz injected in liquid form into the aluminum honeycomb cell pattern. This was the heat shield that protected the Astronauts from the 6,000 + degree heat during re-entry from space. The high melting temperature of the quartz enabled a slow burn of the resin and made up the “ablative” material. As the ablative material burned away, it took with it the higher temperature. I found these photos in a box in the garage.
I remember quite well being a sixteen-year-old and watching the first Moon walk with my grandmother, Annie Gragg Mullins, and my cousin, April Mullins on my grandmother's color TV in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. My grandmother, Mimi was amazed at the astronauts walking on the Moon since she grew up riding in a horse and buggy until her father, a doctor, bought the first car in
town. April was amazed because her Uncle Bubba’s roommate at West Point, Buzz Aldrin was walking on the Moon. Memories from our past can shape our future. Who knew that years later, I’d be taking my own small step which turned into a giant leap for me.
On the 45th anniversary of the Moon walk, my husband Todd and I were watching the news. I
commented that the 50th anniversary of that small step would be a great theme for a collection of art quilts called Fly Me to the Moon. He encouraged me to pursue it and later that same day I had the exhibit planned out by category. That was my small step. The next larger step came when I approached Schiffer Publishing with an idea for a book about this collection.They encouraged me to pursue it and that’s when the giant leap came, I put out a call for entries. Would
anybody respond? Would there be enough art quilts to show? Could I find venues? I was overwhelmed by the international response. Fly Me to the Moon drew artists from around the world. It held universal appeal.