Remembering the hope and despair of Apollo 11

1-Mike Staton
This post was written by Mike Staton.

What happened on July 20th? It’s quite a famous date. I ask because many Americans were not even alive when a very famous event took place.


Have you figured it out? If you’re in your forties or younger, you have no memory of the event. You only know it from movies, science documentaries and news footage. What’s the date? July 20, 1969.

OK, enough with the suspense. At 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon’s surface. Aboard were astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Six hours later, at 10:56 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

I was 17 years old, just back from an Ohio University workshop for high school journalists. Come September, I would become one of the co-editors of the school newspaper, the Cadet Review. That would start me on a career as a print journalist working for newspapers in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.

Orion and SLS
Here’s NASA’s post-shuttle manned vehicles, the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft. They will fly unmanned in late 2018.

In the harrowing minutes as the Eagle fired up its descent engine and headed for the moon’s surface, I sat in our living room and watched network coverage (which network I no longer remember). My dad’s sister Emmy, her husband Bill and their kids were down visiting us in Beverly, Ohio, and were watching the moon landing and moonwalk with us. Memories can be deceiving; for many years I thought my cousins Candy and Pat were the ones who came down from Medina to watch the Eagle chase history. But several years ago Emmy reminded me she and her family were in Beverly when Eagle touched down on the moon’s surface 47 years ago today.


Back then, basking in the exhilaration of the moon landing, I expected to witness great space achievements in the decades ahead. I had heady thoughts, but reality turned out differently. President Nixon tasked a task force headed by Vice President Spiro Agnew to look at a new space goal for NASA and the nation. They recommended a landing on Mars in 1986. That goal was DOA. Instead, we took incremental steps; first, the space shuttle, and then a commitment to build a space station.

A shuttle orbiter – Columbia – flew for the first time in April 1981. They were retired to museums after the last shuttle flight in 2011. We lost two of them along with the astronauts aboard. The three remaining ones helped build the International Space Station over about 12 years. It’s in low-earth orbit now, a testament to international cooperation. It consists of modules supplied by the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, and the Japanese agency. It shows that we could mount an international effort to return to the moon or go to Mars – if we have the will. That’s the rub… this is not an age of grand ideas.


Orion at moon
Orion at the Moon sometime in the 2020s.

It appears that a majority of Americans don’t trust the federal government – and that’s who would be spearheading the effort if it’s government funded. From watching TV news and reading Facebook and Twitter comments it appears ISIS and al-Qaeda have Americans paralyzed with fear. We’re sure not made of the stuff are parents and grandparents were when they fought Hitler, Mussolini and Japanese imperialism. Some of us even want to hold a Constitutional Convention and draft a new constitution to correct the shortcomings of the current one in place since the late 18th Century. Nope… we’re not dreamers and doers anymore. So any national or international mission to Mars will probably not get off the drawing board.



Boeing Starliner
Boeing’s Starliner on the pad at KSC. It’s suppose to fly astronauts to the space station starting in 2018.

Well, I don’t want to sound too pessimistic. NASA is constructing the first building blocks needed for a Mars mission (or a return to the moon if that’s the decision of a new administration). The space agency is actually bending metal for a full-up test of the nation’s new super-rocket and BEO (Beyond Earth Orbit) spacecraft, the Orion. That’s to happen in the fall or winter of 2018. The super-rocket will lift off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center on more than ten million pounds of thrust. That’s more thrust than the Saturn V moon rocket and the space shuttle system.


Known as the Space Launch System, or SLS, the super-rocket is based on evolved shuttle technology. When you look at a graphic of the launch, you can immediately see the shuttle heritage – two solid rocket booster and four space shuttle main engines beneath a new core stage that replaces the orbiter. The second stage is known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS, and atop it will be the Orion. The core stage will launch the Orion/ICPS into low earth orbit. When cleared to leave low earth orbit, the ICPS will send Orion out beyond the Moon. The Orion will spend three weeks in space, with six days in a retrograde orbit around the moon. It will not be a manned mission. In fact, we won’t see a manned Orion mission until the early 2020s.


Crew Dragon
SpaceX’s crew dragon in low earth orbit heading for a rendezvous with the space station.

NASA’s BEO program is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Sometimes it feels like it’s on life support. With the hardware for Exploration Mission One (EM-1) in the works, it’s time for NASA to get Presidential and Congressional approval to spend money to start building the elements of a true Mars spacecraft starting with a habitat module where astronauts would live and work during the trip to and from Mars.


If NASA does indeed mount build the hardware infrastructure for manned flights to Mars, it’ll probably do so using the public/private blueprint it forged to build the cargo ships and manned taxis for low-earth orbit. The SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo ships are now routinely flying to the ISS, delivering cargo to the outpost 270 miles above our heads. The manned taxis, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and Boeing’s Starliner, should start flying astronauts into low earth orbit in 2017 or 2018. And on the space station, NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are testing BEAM, a new concept for inflatable space vehicle modules that could become the science modules, greenhouses and living quarters for a true manned interplanetary spacecraft.

Interplanetary vehicle-nuclear thermal rocket (NTR)
Here’s a possible future interplanetary spacecraft with an Orion, Bigelow-style hab module and a nuclear thermal propulsion stage.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk isn’t going to wait on NASA to call on his company. He’s already building his heavy-lift rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to send Red Dragon to Mars – first unmanned and then manned. His ultimate goal is a Martian colony. Musk is expected to reveal his plans for what he calls his Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) and associated architecture later this year at the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.


Get on board, NASA, or watch SpaceX land men and women on Mars before you do. The entrepreneurial pirates are not going to allow terrorists, scared Americans, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to stop his dreams – and the dreams of other Americans who want to sail the seas of space.

# # #

Want some fun summer reading? I’ve a Sword & Sorcery Fantasy trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow, that can be purchased from the websites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. And I’m working on the second draft of my epic Civil War novel, Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. It’s just not history. There’s romance and fantasy – a Confederate soldier from North Carolina caught between two women.


20 thoughts on “Remembering the hope and despair of Apollo 11

  1. I’m just a little younger than you, but I can recall watching the moon landings with fascination. I believe that space exploration is important and that we need to do it, whether through the government or private organizations like Musk’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Joe. I just hope NASA has the wherewithal to take advantage of the cost savings possible when the space agency partners with companies like SpaceX. Too often it becomes business as usual.


    1. Thanks, Abbie. Not everyone’s a fan of space exploration. My friend Sharon could care less. She skips over any of my Facebook posts about space endeavors, and I’m pretty sure she won’t read this post. Everybody has different priorities, and that’s OK.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting! I was living in Germany with my husband when the Eagle landed on the moon. He was in the service and a German couple across the street from our off-base apartment invited us to come over to watch the event on their television (we didn’t have one). It was quite an event with four or five American couples. Lots of food was provided by the host and before we started he told us “You are Americans. You should not be left out of this momentous event. We are so glad to have you here and thank you for sharing this special event with us.” I’ve never forgotten that kind couple who cared enough to invite a few soldiers and their wives to watch a special part of history.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the only males I was interested in at the time were young ones. LOL I kind of remember it, my dad kept up with all that stuff and tried to get us kids to pay more attention. My oldest brother probably did. Now I wish I had. I’m fascinated with your recall of it, and also of Linda’s experience. Thanks, Cher’ley


    1. Yep, the moon landing was one of the pivotal moments of the 20th century. My cousin Candy just related that she was with the Ohio Youth Choir in Italy at the time of the moon landing, and the Italians cheered them.


  4. Of ocurse you had me with the first sentence. I remember those times when folks had something to believe in, even if everyone didn’t agree, they wanted to reach that goal. Conversations were part of our lives. It still is, it just doesn’t make the news, and news is what shapes our reality unless we did deeper.
    Thanks for the memories and dreams. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I watched the landing on TV as well and it was mega at the time. What had seemed impossible had actually happened. Nowadays, I’m not sure that there are no dreamers- it just might be that the way the funding for ‘space programs’ was acquired in the 1950s and 1960s just isn’t palatable any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No Cold War anymore, Nancy. No need to beat the Russians to the Moon to show our economic and technological prowess. Nowadays the Russians are our partners on the space station, along with Europeans and the Japanese. When we do go to Mars, most likely it will be an international effort. For a long time, there were no economic efficiencies leading to a reduction in the cost of reaching orbit. With Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs I think that may be changing. He’s landing first stages so they can be reused. He also intends to eventually do the same with second stages.


  6. I would have been about 8 years old and I really don’t remember much of that first moon walk (I don’t think my parents were interested and so we likely didn’t watch it). I do, however, remember the space shuttle — I was attending the University of Idaho and had just come into the student union when Challenger blew up; I remember tears running down my face. My husband loves learning about space and the travels to and from and he’s a big fan of Mr. Musk. 🙂


    1. Good to check in now and then, eh? See a few more people made comments, including Gayle. Your parents weren’t interested in the moon landing? Wow. I need to talk to them. Lol. Oh, I really like your husband… space fan, baseball fan.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sometime we remember important moments even if we were very young when they happened. I remember where I was and who I was with when the Eagle landed. I watched on a big floor model black and white TV along with other family members. Thanks for the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had a color TV in a metal cabinet. Not sure how many inches. When I lived in my own apartment, I bought a 19 inch, but I think mom and dad had a larger model. Back in the 1950s we were big fans of roller derby. Tells you how lousy the programming was at that time.


  8. I wasn’t around for the moon landing but it would have been quite exciting to watch on TV, I bet. I do remember the Challenger tragedy while at school. I was really young so only remember feeling shocked but it was so surreal, like it was a TV show or movie. I learned some interesting info from your post, like about Musk, I knew nothing about him. Thanks, Mike.


    1. For some weird reason some of the high-tech people are building their facilities in North Vegas. Maybe they think it will be easy to get people to relocate… they’ll want to party on the Strip on the weekends (lol). Guys like Musk (electric car) and Bigelow (space station modules) have plants here. Also that hyperloop company that’s tied in a lawsuit at the moment (owners fighting).


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