Wed | Jun 16, 2021

Memories of watching Apollo 11: ‘You could hear a pin drop’

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM
In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity.
In this July 27, 1969 file photo, Apollo 11 crew members (from left) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit inside a quarantine van in Houston.
This March 30, 1969 photo made available by NASA shows the crew of the Apollo 11 (from left) Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, module pilot; Edwin E. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to the surface of the moon.


When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969, the world was watching.

Live TV coverage made hundreds of millions witnesses to history. They huddled in front of televisions at home and gathered in auditoriums and schoolrooms as the Apollo 11 astronauts ventured on to another world for the first time.

Even now, 50 years later, that day is still deeply etched in memories of many. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASA) and others have gathered their stories for this year’s golden anniversary.

Here are some of the Smithsonian’s submissions.

Frank Schramm of Montclair, New Jersey, was 12 years old and away at summer camp for four weeks of swimming, hiking and building rockets. The Apollo 11 landing was during his second week at Camp Watonka in Hawley, Pennsylvania. The only problem was that they didn’t have a television there. At his suggestion, the camp rented a small 15-inch (38-centimetre) TV:

“It was set up that Sunday, July 20th, and there were only two chairs in the ping pong room. I staked out my place the whole day. I will never forget that evening of all 175 campers and I sitting in the chair, watching this small black-and-white TV with Neil Armstrong coming out of the lunar module in that very blurry image from the moon. The room was in total awe, you could hear a pin drop. I will never forget this day!”

- In King, North Carolina, then 14-year-old Cathy Goff, an avid Star Trek and science fiction fan, followed Apollo 11 closely, cutting newspaper clippings about the mission for a school science project:

“I remember my mother letting my sister and me stay up late to watch the moonwalk. I love anything space related. I had a model of the Apollo 11 rocket, the lunar module, and the Star Trek Enterprise on my desk. I still have my scrapbook of newspaper clippings starting one week before blast off until the day the astronauts came out of quarantine on the Apollo 11 mission. I got to meet Buzz Aldrin at the Star Trek 30th anniversary convention in Huntsville, Alabama. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life!”

- While others were watching in the wee hours of the night or morning, June Dorricott of Brisbane, Australia, was spending the afternoon home on an unofficial day off from school:

“My memories of sitting in the living room in our house in Perth Street with mum and watching on TV as the first man ever walked on the moon are precious to me in so many ways. My mother passed away a few years ago, and our family home was sold and then demolished. But they are both so vivid in my mind, it’s as if they’re still there.”

Peter Cowin in Cheltenham, England, stayed up until the middle of the night to watch the moon landing, with his parents’ permission. “I was something of a space junkie at the time,” he said. The 13-year-old was the only one awake; his family was headed on vacation later that day. But for him, it was worth missing sleep:

“At first the picture was upside down and horribly grainy, but it improved as time went on so I could see two ghostly figures – raising the flag, setting up experiments, and taking that ‘giant leap for mankind’. The day after, it seemed as if the whole world was celebrating and uplifted at the thought of what ‘we’ had achieved. The moon landings showed us that mankind could achieve absolutely anything it set its mind to.”