I walked out of the building, absent-mindedly looked toward the southwestern sky and it just so happened that my eyes looked upon the moon.
It had been on my mind all day in an entirely new way, and yet here it was in its familiar role, benignly gazing down on the summer Earth below.
It was July 20, 1969. And there were men on that moon. And I, along with millions of others, had been with them.
I had spent that Sunday working as an announcer at a suburban Chicago radio station. But was anyone listening? Everyone was glued to television watching as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and then walked on the lunar surface.
TVs were not all that portable in those days, but I had brought a fairly small black-and-white set into the radio station control room and placed it behind me on a chair, as I recall. I had announcements to make throughout the afternoon and records or taped programs to play, but every chance I got I turned around to watch Walter Cronkite and the unfolding lunar drama.
Earlier in the ‘60s President Kennedy had challenged us to put men on the moon by decade’s end. That was a tall order, considering that just a few years before he issued his challenge, U. S. rockets were blowing up on a regular basis. But today it was happening. Men on the moon. And just five months before the new decade.
What a Sunday! There was the thrilling descent from the command module, leaving astronaut Mike Collins to continue on lonely orbits to the far side of the moon. And then there was that landing. We listened as pilot Armstrong professionally read off altitude and descent and drift rates. He was as calm as if he was monitoring a residential gas meter. Men on the moon! Will they make it? Is this for real? Armstrong droning numbers. Controllers discussing a computer alarm. What does it mean? No change – still going down, down, down. To the moon.
More data from Armstrong. Just feet off the surface. Unbelievable!
“Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
A Cape Canaveral guy tells Armstrong everyone has been turning blue. Cronkite is all grins. Men on the moon. And I’m right there with them.
A few hours go by. I still have a radio station to run. I’m missing cues, making mistakes, generally doing a lousy job. But who cares? There are men on the moon, and we’re all there with them.
Then: walking on the surface.
The remote TV camera shows Armstrong’s bulky space-suited silhouette clumsily backing down the ladder. Is this really happening? Am I really seeing this? He steps to the surface.
The first historic words from the moon.
Are a blooper.
“That’s one small step for man,” says Armstrong, “One giant leap for mankind.” That’s not right: it was supposed to “be one small step for a man…” Too late. Moon or not, in live TV you don’t get a second take.
And who cares? There’s a man on the moon.
That night, leaving work, getting into my car, I’m overwhelmed by just the sight of the moon. I was just there today. Vicariously, to be sure. But I was there. With the men on the moon.
Driving home, I’m listening to the radio and an announcer misses a station break.
I know why.
He’s on the moon.