The entire nation stopped to watch.
That's how gripping the Apollo 11 flight to the moon was for our country. Fifty years ago, that's about all that anyone was talking about.
As I write this on Tuesday, there's a lot of talk about Apollo 11 again. Exactly 50 July 16s ago, the rocket blasted off, sending a tiny capsule carrying three men to the moon.
We stopped class to watch the launch, like pretty much every class did. I was a sophomore in high school and still had dreams of becoming a scientist. Many in my generation had that same dream, prompted by the bright dreams and accomplishments of the space program.
As much as I hate to be clichéd, it was a simpler time back then. Issues seemed straight-forward; we believed we could solve any problem using intellect and hard work.
Today? Not so much.
But I digress. I was remembering that shining moment when Americans conquered space — or at least that little bit of space between the earth and the moon.
It took about four days for that little capsule to make it to the moon. That's 238,900 miles in 96 hours or so. Do the math — it's an average of 2,488.5 miles an hour. That's impressive now — it was unbelievable then.
There were more than a few "I remember where I was when" moments in the 1960s. Most of them were bad. Assassinations, wars and more.
There was nothing but good when the nation sat down to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, though. I certainly remember where I was when the words "The Eagle has landed" were uttered.
And you knew I was going to tell you about it, didn't you?
I was 15, and still couldn't drive a car. That didn't stop me from wanting to take girls out, though. So I had swallowed my pride and asked Dad to drive my date and me to a movie.
(I realize how old that makes me — going to a movie, having a date, asking my dad. But there you have it.)
Shortly after she got in the car, we all agreed the movie could wait until after we watched the moon landing. So it was back to our house. We sat on the couch, with family all around, and stared at the television (no, I didn't hold her hand).
I still remember watching Armstrong go down that ladder — either that, or I've seen it so many times since that I've convinced myself I can remember the original. I was truly blessed to listen to those crackley words live (or as live as the technology of the time allowed). "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I'm not exactly sure why I felt like I had accomplished something, but I know I did. I was part of mankind, and I was part of the America that had found a way to put a man on the moon and plant a flag there.
This momentous anniversary comes in the midst of what appears to be renewed interest in exploring space, reaching past our atmosphere to learn new things. And these days, it's not just the Americans versus the Russians. China and India both have designs on landing something on the moon in less than a decade.
And manned spaceflight may soon be part of private enterprise. I'm not ready to plunk down millions to go into low-space orbit, or even to visit the International Space Station, but apparently some people are already doing just that. (My first science fiction author hero, Isaac Asimov, claimed it would take the profit motive to really get people flying. He's been right about a lot of the robotic revolution, so …)
I can only hope I'll still be around to hear "Houston, we've made it to Mars." I bet I'll remember where I was when that happens, too.