Watching all the television retrospectives of tomorrow’s 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon has brought back, to those of us old enough to remember watching the coverage as it happened, memories of what has stayed with us most.
Hundreds of millions still can see in their minds that ghostly image of Neil Armstrong moving down the ladder of the lunar module, stepping off, and hearing him saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The footage also has unlocked other memories: the roar of the Saturn V rocket beginning to fire for seconds before slowly starting to rise, the bright glimmer in the sky as it headed toward orbit, the checkered red-and-white parachutes bringing the capsule to splashdown in the Pacific.
But one of the strongest images is the leitmotif of the big room at Mission Control in Houston, with its banks of computers monitored by rows of engineers, seemingly all wearing short-sleeved white shirts and narrow dark ties.
When you watched television coverage of space missions back then, that’s mainly what you saw for hours.
To one young space fan, these guys were the coolest guys ever, doing the coolest work. (The astronauts themselves, of course, were beyond cool.) Just think: they could monitor everything going on in the space mission right from those computers! Plus, they always seemed to be up at 2 AM. They probably never slept.
And there were their radio transmissions, some kind of cryptic speak inflected with a southern accent, exotic to a northern child’s ears.
One plus with the retrospectives is learning women were in there, too. In the photos, they also look cool. They also did substantive work: one, Margaret Hamilton, designed software for Apollo 11 that cleared the last-moment moon landing decision.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, but the big room got them there and back. Cool guys and girls, for sure.