man on the moon

“I still say, shoot for the moon; you might get there.” — Buzz Aldrin

There are times when a beautiful full moon hangs over Vineyard Sound, it seems so close you feel you can almost just reach out and touch it! But in reality, the moon is 239,000 miles from Earth.

Throughout time, man has always had a fascination with the moon. The powerful force of nature affects all of us. An inspiration through the ages. It is permanently featured in art, literature, music, folklore, superstitions and astrology.

Both the moon and sun influence the Earth’s ocean tides; however, the moon plays a bigger role as it is closest to the Earth.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, speaking before a special joint session of Congress, announced by the end of the decade he wanted to put a man on the moon.

At 9:32 AM on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 took off from the Kennedy Space Center. Onboard were Commander Neil Armstrong, Col. Buzz Aldrin and Col. Michael Collins. The world was about to change forever.

They traveled 239,000 miles in 76 hours and on July 19, the Apollo capsule entered the lunar orbit.

On the morning of July 20, 1969, life went on as any other summer day in Falmouth. At the Elizabeth Theater, “Romeo and Juliet” was playing and a fashion show luncheon at the Flying Bridge was sponsored by the St. Patrick’s Guild. The Hurricane Deck was serving dinner only until 9 so everyone could get home to sit in front of their TV sets.

As kids, we were aware of Apollo 11 and the prospect of men walking on the moon seemed quite unbelievable to us. We were busy with sailing lessons at the yacht club, going to the beach and hanging out with our friends.

That night at my grandmother’s, we were all gathered in front of the television, as was the rest of the nation, and the world to watch this historic event!

At 8:52 AM, Armstrong and Aldrin got into the lunar module fittingly named “The Eagle.” They separated from the Command Service Module where Col. Collins remained.

At 4:17 PM Armstrong notified Houston to inform them “The Eagle has landed.”

Two hours later, Armstrong stepped down the stairs of the Eagle and took the first step on the moon and said those infamous words, “That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.”

The world was speechless along with one of the most trusted news anchors of our time, Walter Cronkite. He struggled in vain to come up with just the right words to say to our nation on this monumental occasion however, the only words that came out were, “Oh Boy!”

Buzz Aldrin followed Armstrong. Twenty minutes later, as he stepped on the moon, he carried the American flag and placed it on the lunar surface.

Collins, who remained on the command module, spent 1½ hours outside the ship on a spacewalk.

Collectively the world watched in awe, this was not fantasy or science fiction; we were actually watching men walk on the moon.

For those few days in July, 50 years ago this month, it brought us all together for a greater good. The people of our nation and of the world filled with our differences, were all at peace.

As the summer neared, the end of a tumultuous decade, July 20, 1969, gave us all hope. If a man can walk on the moon we can do anything!

As many in Falmouth that summer lay on the beach with their transistors tuned in to Cousin Bruce on WABC and WPRO listening to the summer hits; “Crystal Blue Persuasion, My Cherie Amour and Honky Tonk Woman,” the smell of suntan lotion permeated the air and life was getting back to normal.

However, the music would be interrupted on July 19 right as the astronauts were going to walk on the moon. As John F. Kennedy’s dream of landing on the moon was about to come to fruition, Teddy Kennedy went off the bridge at Chappaquidick on the Vineyard with 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. And on August 8 the tragic and gruesome Manson murders occurred in Los Angeles. Then on August 15, 16, and 17, more than 300,000 people traveled to upstate New York for the Woodstock Festival.

Looking at the sky one summer’s evening at Surf Drive Beach, I said, “Look Nana, the man in the moon is smiling at us.” She said, “Is that what you see? I see a man and a lady dancing. She has long hair and a flowing skirt.” I looked up and studied the moon for a minute and could see that image very clearly but to me, it has always been the smiling face of the man in the moon.

Nancy August is a lifelong summer resident of Falmouth, as were her parents and grandparents before her. Her production company is Summer Girl Media.

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