Under Angel Wings


Monday, July 20, 2009

An Historic Day!

Forty years ago today, our country reached a milestone that was previously thought to be impossible~ Apollo 11 landed two Americans safely on the moon, while a third astronaut orbited overhead.

President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961 had challenged our space program to achieve this lofty goal as a response to the achievements of the U.S.S.R.

I was a little girl living on our family farm on the night that the Russian satellite Sputnik 1 first passed overhead in low orbit. It was October 4, 1957. My dad took us out in the dark to peer up at the night sky; I remember it clearly.

The Russians had a good head start in the space race, and it was up to the U.S. to catch up and overtake them as quickly as possible. It was unthinkable that the U.S.S.R. might beat us to the moon...

On July 20, 1969 I was home from college for the summer. I had a date that night, and he had just arrived at our house when it was time to turn on the black and white T.V. and watch the landing on the moon. You need to understand that even Neil Armstrong only gave about 50% odds that the mission would be completed successfully!

My mom and dad and my date and I gathered around the small set in the kitchen and proceeded to hold our collective breaths while the Lunar Module searched for a safe place to land. The tension as we waited was unbearable...would they make it, would they live? What would happen when they stepped outside? Then those wonderful words came flying back from the moon to us, "The Eagle has landed." I get chills even today just remembering the thrill of that landing...we were all so proud to be Americans!

What the general public didn't know at the time was that Aldrin and Armstrong had overshot their landing site and only had 1/2 of a minute's more fuel left when they landed on the other side of a crater in the Sea of Tranquility.

Buzz Aldrin had arranged with his pastor ahead of time to bring consecrated bread and wine so that he could pray, read from the Book of John, and take communion. This was the first food consumed on the moon!

Then Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and uttered one of the most famous quotes in history:

"One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

I read recently that many of the scientists thought that Armstrong would sink down many feet into moon dust when he stepped off the ladder. They literally did not know what would happen! Watching Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin cavort around on the lunar surface had to make for some of the most exciting T.V. coverage ever aired. And let us not forget Michael Collins, who kept the Command Module safely orbiting overhead...

I am so in awe of the courage it took to fly that mission into the unknown...

Neil Armstrong is a bona fide American hero. He has led an exemplary life since that mission,
turning down lucrative offers to make endorsements and choosing to live a quiet life with his family. This is a man we can continue to admire, and I thank him for that!

When I was teaching kindergarten, I used to enjoy telling my classes about the times that our country landed astronauts on the moon. The students were always thunderstruck when I told them that an American flag is still standing on the moon, even when I showed them the famous photograph. That flag was designed to be forever unfurled, looking just as if it is flying in the nonexistent wind, a lasting testament to the ingenuity of the American space program.

When I look up at the full moon, it is still hard for me to believe that we actually accomplished this great feat. I read this morning that Armstrong's footprints (and those of the other astronauts) will remain on the moon undisturbed because there is no wind, as long as the moon exists. That alone is an amazing thought!

The following school year I was a senior at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I stood in line for an hour or so to file by and view the "moon rocks" that Apollo 11 had brought back to earth. It was pretty exciting! Actually they looked a lot like our rocks: sharp edges, small in size, dark grey in color as I remember. That is the closest I will ever come to the moon!

Here is one of my favorite quotations I frequently shared with graduating classes at our school:

Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you will land among the stars!

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