(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison was among those watching as American astronauts landed on the moon, and he joins the anniversary observation with a few reflections of his own.
(ROBISON) It is, frankly, hard for me to believe that it has now been 40 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. It was 40 years ago tomorrow that the New York Times had the famous headline in large bold print usually reserved for a declaration of war, "Men Walk on Moon." It will be most interesting tomorrow morning to see what they do with the story – or history, actually. Only twelve men have ever walked on the moon – all Americans – and for each of them it happened within a three-year time window. It has now been 37 years since anyone – of any nationality – has set foot on the surface of the moon. NASA sets the time of Neil Armstrong’s foot first touching the surface of the moon at 2:56:15 am Universal Time – that is almost 11pm Eastern – on July 20th, 1969. My guess is that everyone listening today who was old enough remembers exactly where they were at the time. The entire world was siezed with excitement at the moment. People who keep track of such things tell us that over 500 million people around the world watched all this – a record for that time. I am truly unclear how they – whoever "they" are – know such things, but there it is.
A few minutes after Neil Armstrong first stepped on the surface of the moon he was joined there by Buzz Aldrin. They were on the moon’s surface for some 2 1/2 hours before their spacecraft went back up and joined the module circling the moon, piloted by Michael Collins, for a safe return to Earth.
There is some dispute whether it was Armstrong or Aldrin who uttered the words, "The Eagle has landed," which meant that all of us watching could breathe again.
I vividly remember thinking that only in America could all this be done in real time. The Soviet space program, by contrast, was mostly carried out in secret. If it succeeded, we heard about it; if it didn’t, well, we simply never heard it.
It was a great moment to be an American. Period. We all felt the pride. All of us.
At that point in time it had been less than a decade since President Kennedy, on May 25th, 1961 had said: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." Forty years ago right now, we had done it! Wow! What a sensational feeling. It was not, of course, the end of the Cold War; but the U.S. had won an important race against the Soviet Union, and everyone knew it. Absolutely everyone, everywhere.
At that moment Americans needed the boost of confidence. The Soviets had launched the first orbital object which, in some sense, launched the space race. That, of course, was Sputnik, some 12 years earlier. That had come in October 1957, and the Soviets were so proud of that accomplishment that they even published a postage stamp in honor of it. The whole business scared Americans half to death and created the groundswell of public opinion which led to the creation of NASA the very next year. And, forty years ago right now, we had jumped past them in a truly significant way.
I am told that more than half of the people in the United States were not yet born 40 years ago. But I was, and I really do remember all of this. Do you?