Updated: Jul 19, 2019
I was there when Apollo 11 left for the moon. The following is my essay on the event that appears in the Lun'Allure, a new publication that celebrates man's landing on the moon.
Summer of ’69, twenty-years-old, finished sophomore year of college, headed to Florida in my red Mustang convertible. Ready to send spacemen off to a new world.
I’m a product of the Sputnik generation. The Russians launched an artificial satellite while I attended grade school. My love of math and science became an overnight American imperative. We needed more scientists to beat the reds in space.
Kennedy announced the target of landing a man on the moon and safely returning him by the end of the 60’s when I entered high school, further validation of what I wanted to do.
In college, I chose physics as my major. My dad swelled with pride when he told his friends my major. He had no idea what it was, but it impressed people.
I knew I had to be at the launch of Apollo 11 that summer of ’69. I asked for time off from my summer job and had no trouble getting it. The launch would be a part of history never to be repeated. There is only one first time.
So, lightly packed, I headed south.
I stopped outside of Cocoa Beach to see a cousin of mine who was working at a hotel during the summer. He was around my age. I had visited him in South Carolina where he lived a couple of years earlier. Back then, he took me to a teen club looking for girls. No girls this night. I planned to camp out as near to the launch as possible and needed to move on.
That night, I found my way to a road just outside Cape Kennedy. Others lined the one lane through marsh land in cars and campers on that warm, clear summer evening. The tall Saturn rocket stood in the distance brightly lit for all to see. I held up my hand and could easily cover the rocket from view, but you would have to be an invited guest or an astronaut to be closer.
As the night darken, the marsh waters grew brighter, lit by the blue light of bioluminescence algae, providing an otherworld prelude to the launch. I lay in a sleeping bag with little pretense of sleep.
The early morning sun found many others gathered along my road. Radios from vehicles everywhere provided the same commentary as the launch time approached. The remaining minutes grew fewer and the excitement, greater. One minute to launch. We’d all witnessed that countdown moment, but on TV. This was here, before our eyes. We could see clouds of vapor rise from the craft as the seconds descended. The last ten seconds ticked off more slowly than ten seconds had ever expired. The rockets fired, clamps holding the giant in place. Though miles from the beast, the ground rumbled from this manmade quake. Then Zero. The clamps released the rocket. It rose slowly, its yellow flames visible to all. Now the air itself quaked with pulses from the giant engines. Cheers from all around. Were we cheering them on their launch or ourselves for being there?
Back home, I shared the first step on the moon in the same manner as the rest of the world, through TV. My family gathered around the set. It took our breath away. A man walked on another planet. Yes, it was technically the moon, not a planet. But it was a world not of this one. That’s what counted.
Fifty years passed and predictions of the future, as always, faltered. No one lives on the moon, but we’ve made good use of the space closer to earth. Communication satellites were predicted long before men on the moon and they did come to fruition, making the world below them smaller. However, who thought they would beam HBO to our homes and Sirius XM to our cars? GPS satellites tell ships at sea where they are, but sending a map to a gizmo in our pocket telling us where the nearest grocery store is? Who knew?
Life continues to ebb and flow in ways we cannot predict any better than we can predict the next technology that changes the way we live. But that day on the Florida beach fifty years ago made one thing perfectly clear. We are not destined to remain earthbound.
For more information about Lun'Allure and to get a copy, visit https://viewsnverse.com