Moon Landing Memories
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, we asked some of those in our network that remember the day well to tell us about where they were during the making of history...
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, we asked some of those in our network that remember the day well to tell us about where they were during the making of history…
I absolutely remember one of the most eventful days in the history of our country! We had just moved from Schenectady, New York, to our new home on the western edge of Evansville, Indiana, as my husband Tom was transferred by General Electric to the Lexan Plastic Plant near there. We had also just built our first color TV from Heathkit and had it up and operating. We were so eager to see this moon landing live on that TV. We had our 5-year-old daughter Karen watch with us and told her this would be one of the biggest events of her lifetime. We held our breaths as Neil Armstrong made his way down the ladder from the spacecraft to the moon surface and uttered his now famous quote, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind!” That evening as we stood outside looking up at the moon, it was a whole new feeling, knowing our astronauts were physically there. A true God moment!
I didn’t see the moon landing; I heard it. I was driving across Atlanta at 10:56 pm, returning from a date with the woman who in a year would become my wife. Too poor to own a TV, I listened on the radio and didn’t see images until Life magazine came out with remarkable still photos. I was driving my grandfather’s 1949 Plymouth, a tank-like vehicle that guzzled gasoline (then $.35 a gallon). A blacksmith, my grandfather had built the first truck bodies in Atlanta, including some for the fledgling Coca-Cola company. Born in 1888, my grandfather had great-uncles who fought in the Civil War. He had seen the invention of the automobile, the airplane, and two world wars, and he followed with fascination the bold venture of sending a man to the moon. Alas, he died exactly one week before Apollo 11 took off.
As the ramifications of this “moon-landing” unfold and begin to change the world of human biology forever, we need the stabilizing love, guidance, and wisdom of the One who never changes.
The Apollo 11 Moon landing remains indelibly etched in my mind’s eye. Shortly after lunch on July 20, ten of my fellow University of Toronto astronomy grad students and two astronomy professors headed upstairs with me to the astronomy department lounge to watch the only television available. We watched and listened intently to communications between Houston and the Lunar Command Module, Columbia, especially during the delicate separation of the Lunar Module, Eagle, from Columbia.
Satisfied that the Eagle and her two passengers were safely (and slowly) on their way to the Moon’s surface, we went back to our offices and our pressing research projects. A couple of hours later, we returned in time to hear, unforgettably, “The Eagle has landed.” Knowing several more hours would pass before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could exit the Eagle, all but two of us went back to our studies. I vividly remember the shout from upstairs, “You better come now!” Within minutes we saw Armstrong gingerly descend the ladder, declaring, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Not only were we enthralled to see Armstrong and Aldrin bounce around on the lunar surface, picking up rocks, but we were also glad to see them set up a special laser reflector. Designed to yield progressively higher-precision tests of general relativity, this reflector has performed wonderfully, affirming general relativity to an unprecedented degree. What’s more, it has been used to constrain changes in Newton’s gravitational constant to less than two parts in ten trillion per year. The latter finding attests “the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (see Jeremiah 33:25). Heading home at 2:30 AM, I sensed that the night of July 20-21, 1969, would compare with few other events of my lifetime.
I was living in New York City and remember the hot summer day vividly—bursting with pride to be an American; proud of our initiative and daring. President Kennedy had kept his audacious promise for us to reach the moon in the decade of the 60s. TVs were blasting in every store window, these astronauts carried our hearts and dreams with them. Every minute we rooted the three of them on. Reaching the moon was unimaginable for most of us. I remember what seemed like everyone exhaling at once when we heard “The Eagle has landed” and then Neil Armstrong took “one step for man and one giant leap for mankind,” Buzz Aldrin followed, bouncing as they walked on the moon. Forever emblazoned on our minds are the two iconic photos of the earth from space and our flag being planted on the moon’s surface.
It changed my entire perspective of what was familiar and what was distant. “Good Night Moon” would never be the same!
When the first moon landing took place, I was a high school student visiting my grandmother on the Jersey shore. She had one of those small, black-and-white TVs with a wooden case that were popular in the 1950s. No one in my family owned a color set for several more years at that point. All of us were keen to watch it—astronomy has always been my first love in science, and the same for my father. No one cared that the images were grainy and colorless. We had been waiting a long time for something like this, and we weren’t going to miss it!
It was a warm and muggy July afternoon in Indiana. My husband and I were sitting on the couch glued to the old black and white television set. People all over the country and even around the world were doing the same thing. For this was the big day when man set foot on the moon. Around us our three young children were playing and occasionally glanced at what was happening on television. On my lap lay our ten-day old infant. I can always remember the date of the moon landing because I relate it to the birth of that child—July, 1969.
You see, my name is Nancy Stump. I was that 28-year-old mother of four children. The ten day old infant on my lap was a little boy that we had named Jimmie. Little Jimmie grew up until you probably know him as James Stump or Dr. Stump. I’m just sure that his exposure to that great event at the young age of 10 days must have sparked his lifelong interest in and his study of science.
I was in my first year of graduate school in the summer of ’69. Conducting my own set of experiments for the first time, I was just beginning to learn the joy of scientific discovery. A new technique for creating chemically-induced mutations in the fruit fly, Drosophila, had recently been developed and I was excitedly giving it a try. Lacing a solution with a little sugar to make it enticing, I would feed my flies the chemical EMS. As the experiment proceeded, each day I couldn’t wait to get into the lab to see if new mutants (genetically altered flies) had appeared in my culture bottles. Can you imagine the excitement? Creating new mutations in flies and then breeding them as brand new mutant strains that had never before existed was close to being the most exhilarating experience of my life. I was doing science, sensing its joy and its power for the first time. Meanwhile about 240,000 miles away, another experiment was being completed. That same exhilarating joy of discovery and amazement at science’s potency was the experience of hundreds of millions of individuals all at once.
On that Sunday afternoon, July 20th, 1969, I was in Edmonton, Alberta watching it unfold on Canadian television where the CBC video feed was coming directly from CBS. So, with my own reel-to-reel tape recorder running to memorialize the occasion, I can remember Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses, rubbing his hands together as he, shaking his head in amazement, waited for Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped from the landing module onto the moon’s surface. The first phrase was clear, “That’s one small step for man,” he said, but the second came through as a bit fuzzy and he waited for someone to tell him the second part of what Armstrong had said—“One giant leap for mankind,” they told him. With that, we all just sat there in amazement. In just eight years, science had accomplished exactly what everyone’s hero at the time—the late John F. Kennedy—had said America’s science would do. Sure enough, we were walking on the moon before the end of the decade. With regard to my own little experiment with fruit flies that summer, little did I know just how trivial making a few mutations would quickly become. Within the next 30 years, Drosophila molecular biologists would decipher the entire DNA code for building a fruit fly body.
Indeed, shortly thereafter BioLogos’ founder, Francis Collins, led the equivalent of biology’s own moon-landing—the massively successful effort to sequence of our own genome. Scholars say that the moon-landing had all sorts of unforeseen effects, most significant of which has been its unparalleled role in ushering in the digital era that has revolutionized how society functions today. The jury is still out for biology’s “moon-landing,” but all indications are that its impact on biotechnology is ushering in a change at least as dramatic. Indeed, it is likely that in almost godlike fashion we will have the capacity to enhance our biology in mind-blowing ways we haven’t even fathomed yet—quite scary when you stop to think about it. As the ramifications of this “moon-landing” unfold and begin to change the world of human biology forever, we need the stabilizing love, guidance, and wisdom of the One who never changes. We need to remember that we are creatures, not gods. We have a history of demonstrating that we cannot master our own destiny even though we think we can. There is good news though: we are not alone. And for the sake of all creation—given the power of the mighty forces we now know we can unleash—we had better not pretend we are.
About the authors
Nancy O. Low
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