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50 years ago

I wasn’t a kid when Apollo landed on the moon. I was 25 years old.

When I was a kid, I used to spend summers in Albuquerque with my aunt and uncle David and Marge Carrick (they weren’t “blood” aunt and uncle, my parents didn’t have siblings, but they had all grown close with dad and uncle Dave teaching electronics during the war). Uncle Dave was involved with the guys launching rockets from White Sands. One of his good friends was an engineer named G. Harry Stine, who was also the first science fiction author I met. He wrote about the exploration of space in “hard” s-f. I once got to go to White Sands to see them launch a Viking rocket. Loud and noisy and scary for a 10-year old.

I fell in love with science fiction around age 9, when I was at the Eugene Field Library in Denver, and got tired of the Y-A books and turned the corner to see what was on those shelves. Science fiction! I well remember the first book I grabbed, “Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus” (yes, I was very upset 9 years later to discover there were no oceans there), written by Isaac Asimov. A name I came to know as I discovered the Robots and the Foundation trilogy. (30 years later, when I obtained membership in the Magician’s Guild, aka Science Fiction Writers of America, for writing “The Terror Within,” I was privileged to be invited to dine with Dr. Asimov at his table at the convention that year – he was a fan – which is still The Best Night of My Life, way above the weekend spent getting drunk with Adolf Galland, Walter Krupinski and Gunther Rall at the AFAA convention two years earlier, and all the other aces there that weekend, as absolutely totally cool as that was; but at the SFWA convention, I met my “gods” – Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, and on and on, all these guys I had grown up with, and was in awe of, and they welcomed me as one of them)

So I was a “space nut” from the night my dad and I went out in the back yard and found Sputnik in his telescope, from the day I saw the Mercury astronauts at their first news conference. Followed all of it (and was later lucky to meet and go flying with Gordo Cooper, a flying nut’s flying nut, when I worked on The Right Stuff, the first movie job I ever had).

The day they landed on the moon, I was beyond excited. Beyond overjoyed.

We had a small apartment in San Francisco (with a wall-to-wall ceiling-to-floor window giving a view from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge). I was sitting on one of the bar stools at the kitchen counter, and as they dropped lower and lower, I was bouncing up and down, back and forth on that stool.

And when Neil Armstrong said “Houston. Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed,” I bounced so hard, I fell over, me and the stool, onto the floor. BAM! And I got up and jumped up so high I nearly knocked myself out on our 8-foot ceiling.

The best day I can ever remember.

Update: thinking tonight about Armstrong stepping onto the moon, I remember we went over to my wife’s family home to watch it with everyone else. Her then-71-year old grandmother was there, and she talked about being five years old and reading in the newspaper about the Wright Brothers’ first flight. It “got me” to think that everything, from the Wright Brothers’ first flight to Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon, happened within a single human lifetime.

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10 responses to 50 years ago

  1. Great story, Tom. You have had some very interesting experiences in your life. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing Tom, a great testimony. I was not born yet in 1969 but always admired America for accomplishing this feat.

  3. ground control to Major Tom…i was pretty spaced out in 69 too…in fact the majority of my friends were what you might call “Space Cadets”

  4. I adore all those writers. I say writers, but they were visionaries. Heinlein. Asimov. Herbert. Silverberg. Niven. Clarke. May. Donaldson. Devoured every single word. Still do.

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Tom.

    ‘Liked’

  5. Ah, the Foundation Trilogy, and Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, just a few on a long trek.

  6. The Martian Chronicles were my first. And reading Fahrenheit 451 at age 11, in the middle of McCarthyism, was a “thought-provoker.”

    • The author stated it’s not about politics though some would like to put that liberal “spin” on it.

      If you do a little research this is what the author allegedly stated.

      His point was that television is turning people into morons …….. It’s not about censorship or firefighters burning books.

      • Of course he said that in 1953 – he wanted to continue to work. 1953 was the height of McCarthyism, and it was very easy for people to think that the future could go as described in the novel, given the events of the day. I happen to have known Ray, and I can say that in 1967, he said “Of course it was about McCarthy!”

        • I am certain that he did not change his opinion, even though 1967 was part of the “flower power” era. You did however get one thing right. 1953 was the height of McCarthy………

          As long as we continue to keep spreading incorrect information on a subject this myth will continue.

          Bradbury held forums and attended conventions every year until his death in 2012. Not once did he ever change his thoughts on the meaning behind the story.

          If he did, and you can show irrefutable proof otherwise, (and post it here), then your guilty as charged of doing something that you say you can’t stand.

          That is saying something that is not “historically accurate”. If you show this proof then I’ll gladly accept it and offer a sincere apology.

          Until this happens, what you have stated remains fiction, not science fiction.

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