Saturday, July 20, marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. On that day, in 1969, the Lunar Module Eagle, which carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, made contact with the surface of the moon while Michael Collins piloted the command module, Columbia, in lunar orbit. As Armstrong stepped out onto the moon, he uttered what have since become immortal words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Steve Emert, of White Bear Lake, was 15 at the time and “very excited” about the moon landing. He and his family, he said, “like many others, watched everything on CBS because we felt that Walter Cronkite, accompanied by astronaut Wally Schirra, was the best reporter for the Apollo program.”
Digital video recorders didn’t exist in the 1960s, but tape recorders, at least, did. Emert said he tape-recorded the entire special leading up to the landing, in addition to the broadcast of the landing and the moonwalk itself. “I sure wish we had video recording capabilities in those days,” he added.
Emert was one of approximately 600 million viewers who tuned into to watch Armstrong’s—and later Aldrin’s—moonwalk. “I remember the confusion created by CBS’s animation showing the (lunar module) landing before it actually did, and also Mr. Cronkite’s confusion about when exactly Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon because he said he was testing being able to get back up on the ladder.”
Fifty years later, Emert is still fascinated by the moon and the cosmos. A member of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, he’s leading the club’s efforts to build a full-size mock-up of the Apollo 11 landing site and the Lunar Module Eagle, which will be showcased at the Eagle Lake Observatory in Baylor Regional Park during the Astronomical Society’s moon landing anniversary celebration July 20 and again Aug. 2-4.
“While the (lunar module) didn’t have a lot of room inside for the astronauts, I’m beginning to realize that thing is huge on the outside,” Emert said.
Roberta Weems, of Vadnais Heights, was 12 at the time of the moon landing.
“It’s hard to remember if I watched it live on TV, and I remember that or if I remember the replays from later,” she admitted. But, while she wishes she personally remembered more, she does, at least, recall her dad’s stories about his role in the Apollo missions.
Weems’ father, Bob Oulicky, served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Thanks to all he learned about technology and engineering throughout the war, he later landed a job with Sperry-Univac (now known as Unisys).
“He was part of the team that developed the system that was used in the moon landing,” Weems said.
Throughout the Apollo moon missions, NASA’s tracking stations used Univac computers to communicate with astronauts back on Earth.
Like Emert, White Bear Lake resident Joann Thompson watched the moon landing unfold on CBS. She and her family were vacationing on Lake Michigan at the time.
“I remember watching on a 13-inch, black and white TV with rabbit ear antenna. We set it up in the front upstairs bedroom facing Lake Michigan to try to get good reception across the water from Wisconsin,” she said. “Of course, by today’s standards, that reception wasn’t that good at all.”
Thompson said the astronauts’ excitement was palpable—and contagious. “We (my two sisters and I) all started jumping up and down once the landing had occurred,” she remembered. “I was thrilled as an almost 10-year-old.”