On the evening of July 20, 1969, I’m pretty sure the family was hunkered down in the basement of the our little green house on Bluefield Drive in Columbus, watching the events unfolding on the moon.
I can’t remember whether we were watching the 19″ black and white Zenith (“The Quality Goes in Before the Name Goes On”) or if it was after Dad had broken down and picked up the color TV from the new Curtis Mathes store on Watkins Road (“The Most Expensive Television Set in America; and Darn Well Worth It”)… it was a true piece of furniture, complete with doors. It’s still in the family, but has since been converted to a liquor cabinet.
Anyway, I know that we didn’t spend all our time watching Walter Cronkite (although, if you listened to all the CBS obits, you’d think he was the only newsman covering the event). We also watched a lot of Jules Bergman over on ABC. As Science Editor, I think he knew just as much about the space program, he just didn’t get as excited as Cronkite.
We also paid a lot of attention because of the local connection to the commander on the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong is from Wapokeneta, which isn’t too far from Columbus; a fact that both local papers and all three TV stations beat into the ground. Ohio had all kinds of connections to the space program. Mercury astronaut John Glenn is also from Ohio. My Aunt Lois had actually spotted another astronaut, Donn Eisele, at the Ohio State Fair, and gotten him to sign a couple of restaurant order slips for me and my older brother. Eisele, who was from Columbus, was the command module pilot on Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, in October, ’68. My brother the pack rat, probably lost his autograph two minutes after Lois gave it to him. I’ve still got mine somewhere (but since it’s after midnight, I’m not going to look for it right now).
The incredible thing about Apollo 11 was not just that they got to the moon; it’s that they got back. Following the return was just as riveting to me. Although I thought that quarantining them was weird; if they had picked up “moon cooties,” wouldn’t their space suits and everything else have too? Maybe NASA wanted to keep them away from Nixon…
Now NASA is talking about going back to the moon, I hope it doesn’t take them 10 years and trillions of dollars; after all, the technology has already been developed. With the advances made, it should be easier the second time around. Of course, there is the money issue… but I think a lot of us have forgotten that the race to the moon occurred concurrently with the Vietnam War, which cost a pretty penny. Maybe when (if) the economy turns around, Americans will be more willing to accept the challenge of continuing the voyage into deep space.