20 July 1969 – Moon Landing 40th Anniversary

[Originally posted 7/18/2009] Assuming you are over 40 where were you on that day? I had the outline and major points in mind but could not come up with all the details until I did some research into my files.

I was in the Air Force at the time and had recently graduated from a Master’s program in Electrical Engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology in residence at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. On graduation I was sent to Brooks AFB, Texas to do some research related to the Air Force space program’s Manned Orbiting Lab so I was interested in the space program and had been following it closely.

I had been sent to attend the 8th International Conference on Medical and Biological Engineering in Chicago, Illinois. My travel there just happened to be on that day in July 1969 and I was rather beside myself wondering how I was going to see any part of the landing. According to my travel voucher (yes, I kept that 40-year-old carbon-paper-created record!) I left San Antonio at 11:15am and arrived in Chicago at 5pm and then the hotel at 5:45pm (OK, the record says 1745 but I translated :-)). The LEM set down at 4:17pm EDT (3:17pm in my time zone) so I was in the air when the landing actually happened. The pilot announced it however and the plane broke out in cheers. That left the first step however. It was scheduled for four hours into the mission timeline.

Since I was traveling with a group of other officers I had to keep with them — to a party one of the group was invited to.

Fortunately, the house where the party was held was large and they had a large B&W television in a den away from the main party group. So, after having some munchies and a drink I and a few others asked permission to use the TV and we retired to the den to watch that first step for (a) man that was history in the making.

It was only later that we all learned how perilous that trip really was. The hull of the LEM was only as thick as about three sheets of the aluminum foil you have in your kitchen. The airlock with the command module had a bit of air still in it on release and that was enough added thrust to put the LEM several miles off course. The long landing time; using more and more fuel which later turned out to be a blessing as Mission Control had calculated a small probability of blowback from the surface igniting the fuel tanks and causing an explosion. The soft landing which turned out badly as it did not compress the shock absorbers and left a 3.5-foot gap between the bottom of the ladder and the surface. The flag staff which they had trouble putting into the surface rock (instead of the softer surface expected). After putting it up they avoided the area so it would not fall over. [Added 2013: As a point of trivia, the flag was blown over when the LEM took off so later missions placed the flag further away and they are still standing.] And, all using computers less powerful than the average cellphone today. Finally, Buzz had to be certain to leave the door to the LEM open as it had no outside handle and would have locked them out if closed!

Amazing at the time and still amazing now.

That’s my tale of the time. Watched the first step in a far-away-from-home den with an unrelated party going on in the background.