It was 50 years ago today that the first moon landing took place in 1969. Most everyone on Earth who had a television set watched the real time operation unfold. It has been estimated that 600 million people saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step out of the lunar module – named the Eagle – and walk on the moon.

It was a momentous occasion that was highly celebrated and long remembered. Several Lake Havasu City residents shared their recollections of Apollo 11. 

We have liftoff

Debbie Smith was a youngster living in Miami with her family in 1969. Making the five-hour trek north to Kennedy Space Center to witness rocket launches up close was a frequent family outing.

Watching Apollo 11 lift off was no exception.

“There were five of us kids in the car. We’d drive to Kennedy the day before, spend the night in the car and watch the launches the next day,” Smith said. “Everyone did it. Everyone camped in their cars. We were across the bay from the launch pad.”    

When Apollo 11 launched at 9:32 a.m. on July 16, Smith and her family was there to see it.

“We listened to the countdown on the radio. Thousands of people were there to watch it. When the engines fired, smoke hid the rocket for a few seconds and then it took off into the sky. Everyone cheered and clapped. I was so proud to be an American,” she said. “Where we were standing, there was just cheering and happiness. There was no drinking, no fighting -- none of that stuff that you see today.”   

NASA later estimated one million spectators watched the launch of Apollo 11 from the highways and beaches in the vicinity of the Florida launch site. 

No visuals

Lynn Goldney had to rely on a radio broadcast to keep track of the moon walk as it happened on July 20, 1969.

“That night, I happened to be in Cleveland. I was a 19 year-old music fan who was working at a rock concert parking cars,” he said, noting that in those days, he sported long hair and sideburns.

“When the valet job was over, they asked us to sit on the stage to keep fans off the stage,” Goldney said.

The performers that night were Led Zeppelin and the James Gang.

“Can you imagine what a thrill it was to sit on the stage with Led Zeppelin playing? It was great,” he said.

Goldney moved forward with his life after that night, went to college and outgrew the counterculture lifestyle. He spent his career as a money manager and remains a devout Led Zeppelin fan.

A near-miss

Dick Davis barely missed being a part of the Apollo 11 mission.

In May 1969, after an eight-year tour in the U.S. Navy Polaris Submarine Service, Davis joined Bendix Field Engineering to work with a team at the Apollo Tracking station Goldstone in Barstow, California.

“I completed my training at Goddard Space Flight Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. I had a start date at Goldstone of July 20, 1969,” Davis said. “Prior to my check-in, I was asked to delay by one day as they were going to be quite busy on the 20th. So, as it turned out, I got to watch the landing with the rest of the world on TV.”

Davis worked at Goldstone for the next two flights, Apollo 12 and Apollo 13.

“It was a great experience I will never forget,” he said.

In time, Bendix wanted to send Davis to its tracking station on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We had just settled in to our new home in Barstow. With some regrets, I decided to take a job with Barstow Unified School District,” he said. “I retired from there 29 years later.”

Disney saves the day

Billie Sinek planned for her family to visit Disneyland on July 20, 1969.

“When I found out the moon walk was that night, I thought, ‘Oh, well, we’ll just have to watch the re-runs.’ We’d already decided to go to Disneyland with the kids on that day; we weren’t going to change our plans.”

As it turned out, Sinek and her family got to see Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon along with the rest of the world.

“We watched it live on TV. Televisions were set up all along Main Street and in all the ‘lands.’ Disney did a good job so everyone could see the moon walk,” she said.

Keeping the home fires burning

The late Robert Koch was part of a team that created the navigation systems for the Apollo program.

His wife, Kathleen, kept the home fires burning while her husband worked long hours for several years. On her end, caring for her family entailed numerous resettlements. They were originally from Long Island, New York.

“We moved a lot. At one point, we moved from Wisconsin to Massachusetts when he went to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for Apollo. When the designs were done, we went back to Long Island, and from there to California when Robert worked for North American,” Kathleen said, explaining that Robert had a master’s degree in engineering.

Their dinner conversations were never about Apollo.

“Robert had top secret clearance. He couldn’t say a word about his work,” Kathleen said. “He was gone a lot. Sometimes he would leave home at 7 in the morning and not come home until 10 at night.”

The couple watched the moon landing on the television in their family room. She said Robert had an emotional response to the event.

“The Apollo project was everything to him,” she said.

Pam Ashley can be reached at 928-453-4237, ext. 230 or pashley@havasunews.com.

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