If you’re my age (72) or older, or even a bit younger, you almost certainly know where you were on July" class="auto" target="_blank">firstname.lastname@example.org ">July 20, 1969, a Sunday. That was the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, leaving Michael Collins behind in the Apollo 11 spacecraft at about 1:18 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time.
Several hours later, at 7:56 p.m. PDT, Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module, becoming the first person ever to set foot on land in space. I was in Virginia at the time, at a moonwalk party with friends. Everyone there was glued to the images on a black and white television set.
Days like July 20, 1969, are few and far between, at least for me.
I can remember exactly what I was doing when John F. Kennedy was shot — driving down Wall Street to the printer that printed the Bend High School newspaper — and where I was when the World Trade Center was hit by two airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001 — coming in from having taken the garbage to the curb. I can also remember just where I was and what I was doing when the space shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after takeoff, and, while I forget the date, I remember the early morning my husband and I got the kids up to watch the space shuttle go by overhead. We were impressed. The girls, about 8 and 10, could hardly have cared less.
Those incidents that burn themselves permanently into your brain are called flashbulb memories. According to the American Psychological Association, they’re vivid and enduring and generally linked to an event that is both personally and emotionally significant. And while we think we remember them with the same clarity as the day the event occurred, that’s not true, researchers say. Flashbulb memories, like other memories, change and fade over time.
Meanwhile, Central Oregon had what during the mid-1960s felt like a special relationship with NASA and the astronauts. That’s no surprise: Walter Cunningham would spend about four days here in August of 1964 testing what sort of mobility an astronaut might have in a heavy, multilayered space suit carrying a 40-pound pack. He fell shortly after starting his first day’s test, his vision clouded by vapor from his breath.
My late mother-in-law had a far different perspective on space travel than I did. She was born in 1896, about a decade after Karl Benz patented his three-wheel, open-air motor car, dubbed the Motorwagen, and a bit more than 10 years before Henry Ford sold his first car in 1908. The Wright brothers had flown their airplane five years earlier at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Just imagine. Before she died in 1989, she’d not only seen the car take over American life, she had flown on an airplane to Hawaii and watched two men land on the moon.
As for Apollo 11, the memory may have faded around the edges and even changed some in the intervening 50 years, but I’m far from forgetting it.
Apollo 11 wasn’t our only space accomplishment, to be sure. Robert Kurson’s book, “Rocket Men,” tells the story of the Apollo 8 mission, the first to send humans to the moon. It was chosen as the Deschutes Public Library’s Novel Idea book this year, and if you missed reading it then, it’s still worth your time.
Kurson brought the mission and the people involved to life in ways just watching them on television could not. Until I read the book, I hadn’t given much thought to astronauts’ wives, for example. I assume he’s correct in thinking that Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman’s wife, Susan, was convinced through most of the mission that her husband would never come home alive.
Tomorrow night’s moon will be fuller than the one of 50 years ago, with 82% showing rather than the 30% visible during the first space walk. All the better to go outside, look up and imagine what it must have been like that night to stand on the moon and look out, doing something no one had ever done before.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, email@example.com