For a brief moment when the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon 50 years ago, “it was like all of humanity came together,” said Scott Donnell, a semiretired aerospace engineer and treasurer of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society.
“Everyone was just focused on the moon landing, and there was that sense of like, ‘Wow. We can all come together.’ ... We’ve never been able to do that since. It’s sort of like that lesson was lost. But it shows it can be done.”
Donnell was about to turn 13 when he watched the lunar landing on TV in Wisconsin. He was “the family science geek,” having become interested in astronomy and space exploration in second grade. As the Apollo 11 mission neared, he was devouring every article he could find about the space program.
Apollo 11 launched July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. On July 20, its lunar module landed, and Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, proclaiming: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Armstrong’s famous words captured “so remarkably the culmination of the efforts of an entire nation to make the first great leap into space — leaving our home planet and setting foot on a distant world,” Donnell said. “I was never more proud to be an American.”
Bruce Brookout, Peraton Corp.
Bruce Bookout recalls watching the Gemini and Apollo launches from his grandmother’s front yard in Vero Beach, Fla., about 30 miles south of Cape Canaveral.
Bookout was 8 when his family went to watch Apollo 11 launch, then returned home to Miami, where they watched the lunar landing. Bookout said his father woke him up early, put him in front of the TV and said: “Wake up and watch history.”
“I still think that he showed me the most important thing in science — people helping people see the universe.”
An estimated 1 million people gathered on central Florida beaches to see the launch, and many millions watched the launch on TV, NASA’s website says. Four days later, when Armstrong stepped onto the moon, an estimated 650 million people were watching live.
Bookout went on to serve as a space operations officer in the Air Force and get a master’s degree in space systems operation management. He now works as a program manager for Peraton Corp. on space and missile systems and is an adjunct astronomy professor at Pikes Peak Community College. He’s one of two voices on KRCC’s “Looking Up” radio segment on Mondays and is a trustee for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society.
Among the experiences that shaped his life, he said, “the majesty of watching the multiple launches of our budding space program did steer me toward the stars.”
City Council members
City Councilman Don Knight, who served in the Air Force on countless space systems assignments, said he was working at an amusement park in Albuquerque the day of the landing.
“I was hoping that I could get off in time to go watch the landing and the first walk on the moon, but it was a very crowded day,” Knight said. “The owner let me go, and I raced home and watched it on TV.”
He said he tried to etch every moment of the landing into his mind.
“I just think that reinforced my decision to work in the space field. I flew satellites. I bought satellites. I programmed satellites. I built satellites. It reaffirmed that the space career field was where I wanted to make my mark.”
Fellow Councilman Andy Pico had just graduated high school and was working in food service at SeaWorld in San Diego, Calif.
That day, the retired naval flight officer recalled, “I was busy feeding people. But at one of the tables, someone had a portable TV set, and so we could hear it. Everybody was cheering. It was certainly inspiring.
“It had a very emotional impact on the country, with a great deal of pride that we, as a country, were able to do that and go there.”
Mayor John Suthers
Mayor John Suthers had gathered fellow student council members at his house that day to plan for the next school year. Suthers was the student body president at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs.
The youths and their faculty adviser sat in a circle in the family living room, taking a break to turn on “a relatively small black-and-white TV” and watch the first steps on the moon.
“I knew this was a big deal,” said Suthers, 67. “I knew the world would be a lot different technologically because of this. ... I thought probably the planets were next, and of course, that did not happen. But I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Sitting next to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs last year, “I told him about watching the moon walk and all that kind of stuff. I’m sure people tell him hundreds of times a day where they were when it happened. But it was fun.”
Frankie Tutt was living in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband, Bill, who established the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs.
As the Vietnam War raged, the moon landing was a proud feat for Americans on the world stage, said Tutt, 77.
“I remember jumping up and down and screaming and yelling, and I had tears streaming down my face,” she said. “It was so exciting to have America accomplish something so absolutely unbelievable.
“It was really hard to conceive that this could happen. and I’m looking forward to having us be on the moon again.”
Matt Russell, CSAS president
Matt Russell was born two days after the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. But he said he’s been enthralled by space since childhood.
“ ... I’ve almost felt as if I was there and experienced the event firsthand,” said Russell, president of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society.
On Christmas or his birthday, his parents and grandparents always gave him a space-related gift, whether a book, poster, Lego set or model rocket.
Russell took astronomy classes in college and received a Meade ETX 90 telescope as a birthday gift in the late 1990s. Since then, “he has become an accomplished and published astrophotographer,” the Astronomical Society’s website says.
The Apollo 11 landing “showed the entire world that if you set goals, put a team together, dedicate yourself to a cause, you can accomplish almost anything. Not only that, it provided a great sense of pride and accomplishment to the entire nation.”