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Man on the moon

The Science section of todays NY Times is entirely devoted to the mission that first landed men on the moon forty years ago on July 20, 1969. Im sure that many participants or observers here are not old enough to remember the event. But some of us old folks might like to record memories. I was at my parents house with a typically large group gathered around the TV set in the living room. Some of the grandchildren fell asleep as we waited, but we awakened them in time to see Neil Armstrong take his first steps on to the surface of the moon. We watched in fascination as the two astronauts then at first walked cautiouslyevery step an experiment--, then with more confidence. At one point one of them went bounding off away from the camera and toward the horizon and I had a sudden fear that he was going to bounce right off the moon and be lost into space.A special website has been set up on which you can follow, second by second, the progress of the moon mission from launch here until return.

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I remember that in anticipation of the landing, there were instructions for taking pictures of your television screen. I think I still have the ones I took. The idea of taking pictures of events on television strikes me as very funny now. I also remember all the speculation as to what Armstrong would say when he set foot on the moon. I don't think anyone had ever been before, and maybe never will be again, under such pressure to come up with a significant quote. I still find it amazing sometimes, when I look up at the moon, to think that men have walked on it.I don't remember which mission it was -- probably not the first -- when one of the two astronauts who landed remarked that the one who remained in orbit around the moon took advantage of his time alone to eat all the bacon bits. It still makes me laugh.

I thought the moon landing was shot on a soundstage in Arizona by a young, upstart Stanley Kubrick...It's sad, actually, the number of people I know who honestly believe that the whole thing is a hoax. You'll see references to that viewpoint all over pop culture. As for me, it still blows my mind that it ever happened. It must have been awesome (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) at the time.

There's an obscure little Australian movie called The Dish, about the satellite dish that showed the landing. I recommend it. It's light but very pleasant, like one of those Australian wines with a screw top.

An interesting bit of trivia is that hand-held devices like PDAs have orders of magnitude more computing power than the computer aboard the Lunar Lander. Too bad there's no way to scale the law of gravity in accordance with Moore's law for integrated circuit density. If there were, one might be able to reach the moon in the family sedan.

Thanks for your post, Father Komonchak. (I'm sure you meant to say "July" 20, 1969.)Along with the JFK assassination, the Challenger disaster, and 9/11, the moon landing was one of those days fixed in time and place, and unlike the others I mentioned, it was a moment of both elation and disbelief. I still remember crowding around the TV with the rest of my family as we watched the events unfold in black and white.I still find it amazing, and reaffirming, that Neil Armstrong never sought celebrity after his amazing feat of being the first human to step onto another celestial body. I've also heard Buzz Aldrin state on several occasions that he hoped Armstrong would let him be the first out the door of the lunar lander. Being #2 on the moon contributed to Aldrin's need for psychological treatment in later years. Also, I second Kathy's recommendation of "The Dish," one of those quirky and enjoyable Australian films. It tells the story of a critical tracking station needed for the TV transmission of the lunar landing throughout the world.

I literally slept thru history that night. I was allowed to sleep on the living room couch that evening rather than my in bedroom upstairs, an unheard-of privilege, so that may parents could all the more quickly awaken me and bring me into the family room for the historic moment. Alas, they were unable to rouse me from slumber.David N., a friend of mine tells me that Armstrong's immortal words were written for him ahead of time by a writer in NASA's employ, but that Armstrong muffed the line - it was supposed to be, "One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind". Seemingly, concern for exclusive language had not yet reached that quasi-military outpost of the Federal government in 1969.

I watched the event with some old friends at a hangar party in Minnesota.Amazement was the order of the day.And rightly so, for the Russians, as had been reported, were well ahead of us initially, but after the Soyuz disaster, we had a chance and seized it.I think it's hard for folks to appreciate the complexity of what got done in such a short time then.(I can remember in my brother's JPL days, he designed a rocket less than the size of a penny to turn small cameras in space - the major issue was how to fuel it due to its tiny size.)Those days the country was united in purpose, not like our divided world today; I doubt the burst of ingenuity and accomplishment will be reached again until we figure out better how to really have comon purpose.

Somewhat buried in the section (at least online) is the gem of the coverage: John Noble Wilford's lede to his news story:Men have landed and walked on the moon.When I teach journalism I use that as one of my favorite news leads, and an example of how a tighter lead is often the best way to deal with the biggest stories. As Wilfrod described it, "I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence."

Sorry I'm so late to the party (as usual!). I was a teenager visiting my cousins in Cincinnati when the Apollo 11 landing occurred. I had just taken my first airplane flight to get there. I was the only one who stayed up for the walk, which the astronauts moved up in the schedule, skipping a sleep period in their eagerness to get out on the lunar surface. As for the sense of purpose, I recommend Craig Nelson's new book Rocket Men, which describes the quest for the moon in side pieces woven around the story of the flight of Apollo 11. He points out that if all of the pieces of the Apollo spacecraft - Saturn V rocket combination worked to NASA's reliability goals, thousands of parts would have failed on any given mission, some of which could have been fatal failures. But when people made their piece of the hardware, made it better than the specs, so the failure rate was well below the target NASA set.As much as I want to get back to the moon, it will not be much easier this time, since it will be hard to match that level of excellence without having that sense of purpose.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently went into orbit around the moon to get medium and high resolution photos of the moon to aid in planing our return to the moon. One of the first tasks was to photograph the Apollo lunar landing sites, since the larger of the pieces of equipment left behind would be visible in the hi res shots. The best photo I've seen so far, with the best explanation, is at the Lunar Photo of the Day web sitehttp://lpod.wikispaces.com/July+18%2C+2009where shadow of the Apollo 14 landing stage and a glint off the science experiment package is visible. Also note the difference in the soil tint showing where the astronauts walked on the surface.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.