In grainy footage recorded by a 12-pound camera and transmitted hundreds of thousands of miles across space, the world watched and listened as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin transformed a world’s dream into reality, becoming the first men to step on the moon.
Now, 50 years later, those images — of Armstrong’s boot print on the moon’s surface and Aldrin saluting the American flag — remain seared into the memories of many and continue to captivate the imagination.
“When you see something as spectacular as that on TV, it is just amazing. It inspires you,” said Jody Singer, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and walk, locals, including some who worked on the Apollo program, shared their memories of the historic lunar landing.
“I was 8 years old,” said Singer, a Hartselle native. “One of my favorite memories was being at my grandmother’s house and being called in and watching it on TV and being amazed at what I was seeing and amazed at what, not only our country, but what the world, was seeing and how important it was to all of us and how really inspiring that was to be doing something that had never been done before.”
David Stephenson, one of the more than 400,000 men and women across the nation who contributed to the mission, witnessed the launch of Apollo 11 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 16, 1969.
“I can still remember the large white rocket bathed in lights in the predawn hours before launch. There were over a million people near the Kennedy Space Center to witness the launch,” Stephenson, of Decatur, said. “Three days later, I was back in Huntsville to watch Neil set foot on the moon on my black-and-white TV set.”
On July 20, 1969, more than 500 million people around the world tuned into TV stations to see NASA achieve the challenge President John F. Kennedy issued in 1961 to, before the decade was out, land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.
“No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish,” Kennedy said.
At Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center, thousands of men and women witnessed the creation and evolution of the space program firsthand.
Jim Odom of Decatur, who became involved with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency operated by Maj. Gen. John Medaris and Wernher von Braun in the fall of 1956 building and testing rockets, joined NASA when the agency formed and retired in 1990.
“It was amazing. When Kennedy made his announcement, we were still building little rockets. I still don’t understand why we thought we could do it, but we did. We were building these little rockets and then we go and build the Saturn V,” Odom said, referring to the 360-foot-tall, 6 million-pound rocket. “Talk about a giant step. But the guidance and control systems were similar. The propulsion system was much bigger, but we were using some of the same propellants. It was quite an exciting time.”
Newlyweds Jimmy and Lucille Lee learned of Armstrong's historic first step while flying to Miami for their honeymoon.
“The pilot announced that Neil Armstrong had just stepped out onto the moon's surface. We looked out of our window to see the brightly lit moon and thought we could almost see him there,” said Lucille Lee of Decatur.
To commemorate the lunar mission's anniversary, concerts, art exhibits, book releases and a model rocket launch event will take place.
The Huntsville Brass Band will debut “The Von Braun Suite” by Stephen Bulla, who served as staff arranger to the United States Marine Band and Chamber Orchestra for 30 years, on Tuesday during NASA’s private homecoming celebration. A second performance will take place Thursday, 5-7 p.m., during Biergarten at the Space and Rocket Center.
“I was 3 when the moon landing happened, so I don’t have any memory of it," said Troy Allaway, a member of the Huntsville Brass Band and Priceville Junior High School teacher. "But, being part of this performance, I have done a lot of research and it is truly fascinating."
Inspired by Von Braun’s life and the Apollo program, Bulla, who visited Von Braun’s house, Marshall Space Flight Center and the Space and Rocket Center last year, composed “The Von Braun Suite.”
The four-movement piece opens with the dramatic and tense “Operation Paper Clip,” which depicts Von Braun’s journey to the United States following World War II, and continues with “The Rocket City,” which represents Von Braun’s move to Huntsville.
“This is my favorite movement," Allaway said. "It is a beautiful movement with a pretty and flowing melody like the hills and rivers of the Tennessee Valley."
The suite’s third movement, “Saturn V,” which Allaway described as busy with lots of notes, was inspired by the design and test of the Saturn V. The smooth and flowing feel of “One Small Step,” the piece’s final movement, depicts the launch, flight and landing of Apollo 11.
Along with Allaway, local musicians performing with the band are Elizabeth Cameron and Hobbs Hundley.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center will launch 5,000 model rockets simultaneously at 8:32 a.m., exactly 50 years after the time of the Apollo 11 launch.
“People are so proud of what we have accomplished,” Singer said. “Our whole intent is not only to make the taxpayer and this area so proud of what we’ve accomplished, but it’s for our future. It is the next generation of leaders that we really want to reach out and touch.”