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.
6 additional images. Click to enlarge.