The Soapbox: A blast from the past


I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.

In the late 1960s, that wasn’t an unusual dream for a young boy. The space race gripped the country, and we all watched every launch live. So why not me?

I thought I was highly qualified. After all I had the picture books, the pajamas and the requisite NASA lunchbox with thermos. Just strap me in and let’s go!

Things didn’t quite go that way, but I digress.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and walk on the moon. I will never forget that scorching hot afternoon at the University of South Carolina Bell Camp Recreation Facility in Columbia, S.C. My parents took me to swim and picnic and wait for the broadcast. Around 3:30 p.m., everyone began to gather inside to get a good seat around a pull-down movie screen and wait. I remember vividly the excruciatingly anxious moments as live television broadcast the descent of the lunar module over the Sea of Tranquility and the stark surface of the moon. I think the entire viewing world held its collective breaths as we waited for Neil Armstrong to tell us “The Eagle has landed.” We all exhaled in a victorious roar, jumping up and down hollering and hugging anyone close by. Some ladies had tears of joy running down their faces as the celebration continued for several minutes. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had become the first humans to land on a celestial body. It was an amazing accomplishment of technology and human spirit that put them there.

But now we had to wait for them to come out.

It was going to be a while so we went home. At 6 p.m. Armstrong told Mission Control that they wanted to start the EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) around 9 p.m.

That was a problem for me because that was after my bedtime. After a round of unsuccessful negotiations with my parents, we eventually arrived at a compromise of sorts. I was to be awakened and in position in front of our black and white TV set before the first step was taken. It was the best deal I could get.

Amazingly I did fall asleep. My dad held up his end of the bargain and plucked me up from my bed and plunked me down in front of the television to watch history unfold.

Watching the tantalizingly slow, grainy descent down the ladder of the Lunar Module were images burned forever in my mind. The final step off of the pad and the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I jumped and screamed like it was Christmas morning.

Watching that footage today still brings me chills.

I wonder; does NASA have room on future flights for an aging boy with dreams of space?

Tom Overton is the publisher of the Osceola News-Gazette.