Summer of Space

TELL US YOUR STORY: What do you remember from the moon landing?

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, KUED is celebrating with the Summer of Space, a series of programs, events, and outreach initiatives designed to bring viewers back to that historic day in July 1969, when the first man walked on the moon, and anything seemed possible.

KUED’s Summer of Space is produced in conjunction with the launch of Chasing the Moon, a new three-part documentary series from American Experience that relives the history of the space race, from its earliest beginnings to the monumental achievement of the first lunar landing and beyond.

American Experience: Chasing The Moon

American Experience - Chasing The Moon - Premiering June 8

American Experience - Chasing The Moon

The series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material — much of which has never before been seen by the public — the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

Credit: Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, November 16, 1963

Explore the early days of the space race, the struggle to catch up with the Soviet Union and the enormous stakes in the quest to reach the moon. This episode reveals both the breathtaking failures and successes of the developing U.S. space program.

Earthrise - Image Credit: NASA

Discover what it took to beat the Soviet Union to the moon in the space race. In the turbulent and troubled '60s, the U.S. space program faced tragedy with Apollo 1, but made a triumphant comeback with Apollo 8.

Experience the triumph of the first moon landing, witnessed by the largest TV audience in history. But dreams of space dramatically intersect with dreams of democracy, raising questions of national priorities and national identity.

Moon Memory Highlights

Moon Memories

TELL US YOUR STORY: What do you remember from the moon landing?

Iron Butterfly concert, after which I got home in time to see the first steps on the lunar surface.

K."Squire" Steinau

I had graduated High school that spring, and on the day in question, my band played an afternoon gig at a nearby Army base, after which I went to an Iron Butterfly concert, after which I got home in time to see the first steps on the lunar surface. At least, that's how I remember it!

My Father worked for Lockheed Corporation and was working on the moon landing project.

Wendy Westerfeld

I was 9-years-old (almost 10) on July 20, 1969. I was attending Hidden Villa camp near Los Altos, California at the time, and we all crowded into the “dining hall,” a room in a rustic wooden building, and stared up at a TV in the corner of the room near the ceiling.

I’m pretty sure that’s the only time we viewed a television during my 2 to 3-week stay at camp. The TV wasn’t very big and it was difficult to tell what was going on. I remember feeling confused at what I was watching.

But what is more interesting is what was going on back home, in Webster, Texas. My Father worked for Lockheed Corporation and was working on the moon landing project. He, along with other computer programmers, designed and wrote the software to monitor the heartbeats of the astronauts.

I recently found a note card that I received from my mother during my stay at camp. Part of the letter described her day. Here is an excerpt:

“We did go to the Smith’s to watch when the lunar module landed on the moon and the two men walked on it. Lloyd (my dad) was working because he has extra work with all the tapes of their heartbeats to compute. Their daddy (the Smith’s dad) was also gone – he was in Los Angeles to do some work with the men who designed the lunar module.”

Thank you so much for creating your Summer of Space experience. I’m looking forward to it!

As we got closer we saw it was a black and white TV showing the men walking on the moon!

Marci Devilbiss

I had a friend who was living in Bangkok, Thailand in 1969. She put together a small group that she invited to come over and live there for several months in hopes of entertaining troops in Vietnam. I was lucky enough to be one of those invited. I was 18 years old and embarked on one of the great adventures of my life.

I loved everything about Thailand, most especially the people. They were quite curious about these fair, blonde haired girls walking among them.We loved to stroll down the streets and into the markets. The markets were full of color with the smell of exotic foods. So many things to see and experience.

One day we noticed a group of people huddled around something in a store front. As we got closer we saw it was a black and white TV showing the men walking on the moon! There was so much excitement and wonder that even though I didn't understand the language we were all sharing in that amazing moment. It was such an incredible experience.

Because my father worked in the space program as a cinema photographer I bought a newspaper showing the men on the moon and brought it home with me. I still have it today. It is in Thai but a picture is worth a thousand words, even if they are foreign.

My father ended up filming several launches and met some of the astronauts. The space program was an important part of our lives. Something my 18-year-old self had just witnessed the beginning of, so far away from home in another country. But at that moment it was something that was uniting the world with wonder.

The thoughtful kindness of a young Japanese woman toward this young Army wife touched my heart

Barbara Fredell Davis

The summer of 1969 was my second summer in Japan. I was married to a soldier whose work was caring for military patients from Vietnam. We lived in a pleasant, simple apartment off post "on the economy" with Japanese neighbors as well as some American military couples.

Each night we rolled out futon mattresses onto our tatami mats for sleep.

My experience of July 20th was expected to be different from most Americans as we had no television. To my surprise, our neighbor, whose husband owned the little drugstore, came across the street with a Tokyo newspaper showing a photo of the Apollo 11 astronauts. We had previously simply exchanged ohayou gozaimasu (good morning) greetings. She pointed to her apartment above the drugstore, to my two year old and my two month old and motioned for us to follow her.

My expansive experience that day, while sitting on cushions on her tatami mats and viewing the enthralling one giant leap for mankind, sprang from one compassionate step toward making our world both larger and smaller. The thoughtful kindness of a young Japanese woman toward this young Army wife touched my heart.

The Day We All Connected

No TV to view first moon landing
Two year old, two month old in tow
I follow local druggist's wife home
She wants to share The Experience

Blond Debbie bounces up stairs
I maneuver unwieldy infant seat
All drop to cushions on tatami mats
With millions, we sit in silent awe

Thank you. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Then: Narimasu, Japan
Now: Washington, Utah

He used his clout to vouch for me to get an entry level engineering job — working with him on the Moon Project!

Tom Owens

In the summer of 1968, I found myself proudly employed by TRW Systems, One Space Park, Redondo Beach California. I was a junior man in a group of 17 engineers, secretary's and managers. We were the LEMAGS team — the Lunar Excursion Module Abort Guidance System.

Our team was one of about a dozen different projects at One Space Park that was part of the much bigger 17,000 members nation-wide Apollo project that involved dozen and dozens of companies, large and small - spread all over the country.

TRW and it's One Space Park Campus was one of the top prestige companies in the booming Aerospace age of the 1960s. The Campus was all new and very space-age looking with several different heights and sizes of black mirror-covered buildings, with an eight story gleaming white building as Corporate Headquarters in the middle. It looked like a set from Star Wars, and in fact, a number of episodes of the series were filmed there.

It was a pretty heady place for a young Ogden boy to find himself—fresh from several years in the Army and a few more at Weber College. I mean, this was a place chock full of real brainiacs and endless PHd's from MIT to Cal Tech, and every important University in between.

How did I get there, you ask? Through a few very fortunate occurrences and acquaintances. While a chemistry student at Weber College I met an engineer who worked at Thiokol in Ogden named Don Killmer, a friend to this day. Don later moved to Los Angeles and went to work for Litton Systems. Through Don, I was hired by Litton in Canoga Park, California doing mathematical calculations on Inertial Guidance Systems used in combat Jets. Sounds pretty exciting, and it was — for a few weeks. However, it became seriously boring and repetitious in that era just before computers replaced a lot of hand calculating.

Working in that section was a rather brilliant engineer named Leo Solomon who befriended me and made going to work less boring. He introduced me to a derelict computer, a very early machine called the Bendix G-15. It was about the size and shape of a refrigerator and the only way to communicate with it was with punched paper tape.

Together Leo and I ended up programming all the different calculations we used in our regular duties and making this old G-15 produce all the hand calculating work! Shortly after that, our positions were both "retired" and turned over to the machine.

Soon after that Leo got hired by TRW - a definite step up in the Aerospace world. About six months later, he used his newly-found Cal Tech clout to vouch for me to get an entry level engineering job — working with him on the Moon Project no less!

LEMAGS was one of more than a dozen different and specialized computer systems that was part of the Apollo Project. The sole purpose of this $8 million (1968’s dollars) project was to provide, in real time, a complete set of "flight instructions" that would take over the Landing Module and guide it back to the command Module in the event of any emergency. This was the system that was activated if either of the two astronauts in the Landing Module hit the "Red" button during the period from separation of the Command Module/Lander from the third stage rocket, through descent to moon surface, landing, stay on moon, launch from moon, and re-uniting with the Command Module in moon orbit.

The system kept track of its own position, the Earth's position, the Moon's position, and the Command Module's position. Chewing all those thousands of inputs up multi-times per second, the system was able to keep an exact up-to-the-millisecond set of commands that would get the Landing Module — with two astronauts on board — back to the Command Module with the third member aboard it. It was only the Command Module that could make it back to earth, so needless to say, reconnecting the lander with the command module was of major importance and the sole dedication of these 17 pocket protector wearing Comrades of mine.

I had the great fortune, a life changing experience as it turns out, to be assigned to work under one of the section's most brilliant engineers. His name was Yukio Miyataka, hands down the most brilliant person I ever knew. Yukio was at the heart of figuring out all the engineering and 'rithmatic stuff that was required to bring this far-fetched science fiction exercise to actual fruition.

In the weeks leading up to the landing, we ran endless computer simulations of our program, taking into consideration every possible input and contingency. (The Lander/Command Module separation from the third stage rocket took place while in earth orbit, and once in Moon orbit, the Lander and the Command Module separated with the Lander, ­­then descended to the Moon surface while the Command Module stayed in orbit around the Moon.)

There was a lot of excitement in the air at Space Park in the weeks leading up to the Launch and Moon Landing. This group of normally very staid and reserved engineers and their support team were normally all business - engineering and serious arithmetic kind of business - but even they were caught smiling and showing occasional excitement at participating in such a historic event. A few of the top guys were even known to break into a jig upon a successful computer simulation.

There was also an underlying foreboding in the section, fear of something in this monstrously complex Saturn Five/Apollo Project failing and bringing shame on America's pride — the Space Program.

It had been only a year and half earlier that the tragic in-capsule fire engulfed Apollo 1 during a launch-pad simulation that had killed three astronauts - Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee and cast a huge shadow over the entire program. The thought that it could happen again was never far away, especially with so many moving parts and different systems involved.

The actual landing would also be the end of our section's mission and we would all be spread to other sections of TRW. So, along with the excitement, there was an undertone of poignancy for a group who had been together for five years — and all of a sudden, it was graduation day and everything was about to change, and how the heck was anyone gonna top having worked on the Moon Landing!

In my case the worse happened - I was assigned to the Minuteman project using my new-found knowledge of orbital 'rithmatic to guide multi war-head nuclear bombs to cities with funny names in China and Russia. That's a whole other story — much shorter and a whole lot less exciting!

Clark Leslie - Apollo Photograph
Clark Leslie - Apollo Photograph

I watched through my camera's telephoto lens as the first flames erupted from the Saturn V

Clark Leslie

Two days before the launch of Apollo 11, my step-father volunteered to drive my mother and me from our home in southern Indiana to Florida to watch the launch. After an all-night drive, we arrived in Titusville on the afternoon before the launch.

I could clearly see the Saturn V and launch towers eleven miles to the east across the Banana River (Intracoastal Waterway) so we pulled into a sandy lot next to a new post office having a grand opening ceremony. We set out some beach chairs near the artificial bank of the river, listened to the high school band playing at the post office, and began to wait for the morning. I tried to sleep on the sand but kept lifting my head to look at the floodlit rocket in the distance.

By morning, we had been joined by a crowd and a flatbed truck loaded with long telephoto lenses had pulled up behind us on Highway 1. At 9:00 AM, I was waiting in the hot sun in a line for the restroom at a gas station across the highway, afraid I would miss the launch. I got back in time though and started a small reel-to-reel tape recorder next to my radio, handed my 8mm movie camera to my mother, binoculars to my step-father and checked my Miranda 35mm SLR. In honor of Neil Armstrong, I was wearing a Purdue T-shirt and my traditional Purdue senior beard.

As liftoff approached, helicopters hovered nearby with camera operators hanging out of the open doors. In the last moments there was a little jostling of people near the river's edge but we got ourselves sorted out and then it was time.

With the radio commentators' excited countdown in the background, I watched through my camera's telephoto lens as the first flames erupted from the Saturn V standing just to the right of the launch tower. A white plume rose to the south followed by one to the north as the F-1 engines built thrust. On the radio I heard "She's got flame...a tremendous blast of flame! She's really lighting up!". Six seconds later the rocket began its steady climb against the bright eastern sky. I could hear the crowd cheering but it would be another minute before the engine sounds reached us. Again on the radio "There she goes...she's lifting off the pad! She's really leaning over this time!". We watched it rise as it literally punched a hole in a cloud then began arcing over to the southeast with a contrail forming behind it. At about this time, we could hear a dull roar begin then a series of discrete booms coming over the eleven miles of water and swamp. We watched until Apollo 11 disappeared in the distance.

With a million spectators, the highways would be jammed so we had lunch at a nearby restaurant where they gave out "official" certificates as Apollo launch observers. Fortunately, later that afternoon, we were able to get on one of the bus tours of the Kennedy Space Center. Besides some of the older launch facilities, we got close views of the Apollo 11 launch tower, Mobile Service Structure, and even a peek inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Back home again in Indiana and watching the landing and moonwalk on TV, I set up my movie camera to record the broadcast but I'm pretty sure my film ran out just before the first step. Later that year, I was in the audience at Purdue's Mackey Arena to see Neil Armstrong receive his honorary doctorate . A year after Apollo 11, I was working in Southern California as an aerospace engineer in the Saturn V third stage propulsion group.

I love my memories of Apollo 11 and look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary this summer.


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