Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Memories

July 20 1969, I was just 12 years old. I lived in a regular suburban house with regular suburban parents, I was the eldest of five at the time, and as with most families then we had to be in bed at 8pm on weeknights, maybe 9.30pm at weekend’s school holidays or not that was the way it was. I was really interested in the Moon landing and really wanted to see it Telefis Eireann were going to cover the story with a special programme. I must have pestered them just the right way and at just the right time, and I was allowed much to my surprise to stay up and see how the story unfolded. Pic - My airfix model of The Eagle Lander.

Telefis Eireann didn’t start broadcasting until 6pm in those days and the Moon coverage programme started at 9pm and was presented by Kevin O’Kelly. We had a small black and white TV with a rabbit ear aerial, it had lots of dots on the screen and problems with the vertical and horizontal hold, as TV’s of that era often suffered with this affliction, unpredictably and always inappropriately. Televisions from 1969 had the original rolling news way before Sky! ‘Hitting the box’ as it was referred to, was the required cure when twiddling the dials at the back did not fix the problem. Late into the night only my Dad and I were still watching fine-tuning and adjusting the TV to get the best picture. There were lots of previews and progress reports, and chat about what was going to happen. I had never been up so late in my life, but this was the biggest moment in the history of space exploration up to then and I was going to see it live from the surface of the Moon. I remember a lot of beeps and tech talk from Houston (Houston Texas was the mission control center for the Apollo mission) to the Command Module and from Houston to the Lunar Lander, and the tiny triangular window which was the view from the Eagle as it came in to land on the surface of the Moon.

Apollo 11Transcript

EAGLE: 540 Feet, down at 30 feet per second …down at 15 … 400 feet down a 9…forward…350 feet down a 4… 300 feet, down 3½ … 47 forward… 1½ down…13 foreword…11 forward coming down nicely…200 feet, 4½ down…5½ down…5 percent…75feet …6 forward …lights on…down 2½…kicking some dust… 30 feet, 2½ faint shadow…4 forward… 4 forward… drifting to right a little …OK…

HOUSTON: 30 Seconds fuel remaining

EAGLE: Contact light! OK, engine stop…descent engine command override off…

HOUSTON: We copy you down, Eagle

EAGLE: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!

Touchdown 9 18 pm A Caption on the TV screen saying “man on the Moon”, overlaid onto live shots of Houston control room.

There was continuous coverage in preparation for the Moonwalk, which was originally scheduled for 2.00am but delayed. Pictures of mission control, the sound of Houston - Apollo conversations and then the first TV pictures from the lunar surface just few minutes before the Moonwalk. I remember the endless hours waiting for the hatch to open, Kevin O’Kelly had to do a lot of talking, and a lot of speculation about what was going on and just what the two astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were doing inside the lunar landing module.

Many people all over Ireland waited and waited to see this monumental moment and at last at 3.56am Neil Armstrong came down the ladder and said those words “One small step for man one giant leap for mankind” it was a chokingly emotional thing to see live on TV a man standing on the surface of the Moon 250,000 miles from Earth the first man ever to be on another world. At 4.16 am Armstrong was joined on the lunar surface by Buzz Aldrin. I remember how they bounced around in the Moons weaker gravity and I remember the American flag being placed on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the Moon in the Command Module waiting for Armstrong and Aldrin to blast off when their incredible visit was over and re -dock for the journey home. I had to get some sleep and my dad had to go to work the next day, as it was Monday so we went to bed even though it was amazing television. Next morning Telefis Eireann had a special broadcast at 6.26am to cover the lift off from the Moon, I don’t remember seeing that live, I think I saw it on the news later in the evening.

For many days after the Moonwalk was repeated on TV. It really was an incredible achievement and the astronauts were so courageous because if something went wrong with the Lunar Module there was no way back to Earth for them and Michael Collins would have had a crushingly lonely trip home if he could have done it by himself.

The Apollo 11 crew left among other things a 9 by 7 inch stainless steel plaque on the Moon, to commemorate the landing and provide basic information of the visit to any other beings that may eventually see it. The plaque reads:

Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D.

We came in peace for all mankind.

The plaque depicts the two sides of planet Earth, and is signed by the three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins as well as US President Richard Nixon.

On the return journey to earth I recall the splash down and recovery. A large aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, a partly clouded sky and the world’s press, everyone waiting for to see the parachute bringing the Apollo crew back to Earth. I recall the crew displayed in an oblong chamber with big windows and people looking in at them. The reason for the chamber was the paranoia about Moon bugs or Moon viruses that might have contaminated the astronauts, all of them even though Collins did not set foot on the surface. So they endured this quarantine and later on August 13 they had a ticker tape parade in New York, which I saw, on the news. This was to honor these brave men who had been on an extraordinary journey and had survived.

Back in February 1969 when I was 11years old, I had bought National Geographic Magazine it came with supplement map of the Moon showing the proposed landing sites for the Apollo missions. It says in the bottom left hand corner of the map about the proposed Apollo 11 mission for July 1969


Interestingly enough, while the Moon has not as yet become a launch pad to the universe, July 20 1969 is linked directly to my life today. My interest in space exploration has led me to write several articles on the subject and these have been published in amateur astronomy magazines.

In November 2004 I had the pleasure of attending the National Concert Hall to see Buzz Aldrin Face to Face with Gay Byrne an amazing interview with the second man on the moon. Colonel Aldrin is an extremely interesting man and he held the packed hall for over two hours with his recollections of his life and his historic visit to the moon. I was proud to join in the standing ovation at the end of this prestigious event.

I am also a member of the Saturn Observation Campaign the purpose of which is to bring awareness of Saturn and of the Cassini Huygens to people in general and I have had some success with this also. Image below , showing Ring World in Greystones .

The senior outreach specialist for the Cassini Huygens mission Jane H Jones has provided me with posters, collector cards, tattoos, bookmarks etc to give away to school children and in December 2004, I screened the wonderful DVD Ring World for 340 pupils and teachers over two days in a national school in Greystones. This was a big success and I provided as many classes as possible with promotional material. I also made my own models of Saturn and Titan and gave some classes a talk on the mission. Since then I have been back in this school showing some pupils the sites and sounds of Titan as provided by Cassini, the sounds really interested them and I had to play them more than once. These national school children have a real interest in space but have little or no knowledge of what is going on in the world of space exploration so its very rewarding to bring this information to their attention.


The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 had a profound effect on my life. It gave me an interest in astronomy and space that has stayed with me ever since.

Ring World in Greystones Dec 2004

I got a Tasco telescope for Christmas that year and in the spring I bought an Airfix Apollo 11 Eagle Lunar Lander Model, which I still have today. The National Geographic Map is in my study and is packed with Moon information, and is along with the Lunar Module some of my favorite things. I remember also queuing up with hundreds of people at the American Embassy in Ballsbridge to see the Moon rock when it came to Dublin. It was displayed in a large perspex or glass bubble held in a giant claw mounted like a precious diamond! I filed past the Moon rock in awe of this alien vision. I will never forget the Apollo 11 Moon landing as long as I live and I would hope to see people landing on Mars or on another world sometime in the future of my life.

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