1969 — One Giant Leap for Mankind

Ceilidh Johnson, guest writer

“T-minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal, 12, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engines running, liftoff. We have liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11. Tower cleared.”

Not sure whether to rejoice for a small moment or continue biting my nails, I took a deep breath and squeezed the cushioned armrest of my recliner as Mission Control’s promising words came out of the television. Every few minutes I could hear Stephen, my husband, mumbling a few words under his breath that sounded like prayers. I was a bit confused, because he had never been the religious type during all the years I’ve known him. Shrugging it off, I assumed he was just extremely stressed, as any parent would be in this situation. Our son, Neil Armstrong, was on the spacecraft Apollo 11, with crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, headed for the moon. Stephen and I sat here in our living room, stress-eating half of the food in our house, waiting to be informed that the crew has arrived to the moon safely.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I’m alright, other than the fact that I’m about to faint from all this stress.”

I sighed and pushed myself out of my recliner. Shuffling over to our bookshelf, I scanned over the many family photo albums, searching for the one I put together for Neil. Over the years, I compiled a separate memory book for each of our three children, so they can look back on it whenever they want to remember different moments from their lives. Setting aside the album for my only daughter, June, I spotted Neil’s album with his name in big, blue bubble letters. I heaved the heavy book into my arms and blew off some dust that had collected on top. Wiping off the remaining dust with my hands, I brought the book back to my chair and settled down. Opening to the first page, I saw a faded picture with the caption “Neil Alden Armstrong. Sixteen days old. Firstborn to Stephen and Viola Armstrong.” I smiled, as I remembered seeing his face for the first time, and how wonderful it felt to finally became a mother. The next picture was of Neil and Stephen next to an airplane at the Cleveland Air Races. It was then, when he was two years old, that his immense love for flying developed. “When he was five, he experienced his first airplane flight in a Ford Trimotor while in Warren, Ohio” (Wikipedia). I angled the book towards my husband and motioned for him to look.

“Stephen, see here, do you remember this?” I could see the wistful look in his eyes as he gazed at the photograph.

“I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. He was so excited.”

Stephen sighed and turned back to the television. My heart swelled with joy as I remembered that warm, sunny day. Five-year-old Neil had jumped up and down with pure excitement as we got to the airport, yelling, “Daddy! Mommy! Look at all the airplanes!” It was hard to keep our eyes on him, as he scurried to and from the parked planes, question after question bubbling out of his mouth. “What does this do?” “What happens if I push this button?”

The pilots patiently listened and gladly answered his questions. Our biggest struggle was keeping a fully energized and excited boy in one place for the few moments it took to take a picture.

Several years later, he started pilot training. When he turned sixteen, he earned the certificate that allowed him to fly solo. It was more nerve wracking for me than for Stephen, so I had to learn the art of stepping back, to allow him to spread his wings and, quite literally, fly around by himself.  After several hours of staring at photos of Neil, my tired eyes drooped and reluctantly gave into slumber.


“Pssst! Viola!”

I groggily looked up. “What do you want?” I groaned.

“If you don’t get up right this instant, I’m going to eat this dish of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner by myself! All of it,” Stephen scurried away.

“I sure hope you don’t!” I grunted, hoisting myself off my recliner and into the kitchen. I said a quick prayer and began shoveling macaroni into my mouth. I turned to Stephen. “Did you turn off the tv?”

“Yeah, today’s broadcast ended during the five hours you were asleep.” Stephen blurted, a glob of half-chewed macaroni flying out of his mouth and onto my arm. “It’ll be on the radio till late this evening when this song ends. I think they’re about to describe what they see as they look back at earth.”

I dramatically stared at the glob in disgust and flicked it back to him.

“Ah, well maybe they’d like me to describe to them what I see when you chew with your mouth packed to the brim. And open,” I added.

Stephen rolled his eyes at me and turned the volume up as Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” ended, transitioning to NASA’s broadcast.

“Hey, Jim, I’m looking through the monocular now and, to coin an expression, the view is just beautiful. It’s out of this world.”

Although it was a bit staticky, we could hear Buzz Aldrin’s commentary booming from the radio.

“I can see all the islands in the Mediterranean,” he continued. “Some larger and smaller islands of Majorca, Sardinia and Corsica. A little haze over the upper Italian peninsula, some cumulus clouds out over Greece. The sun is setting on the eastern Mediterranean now. The British Isles are definitely greener in color than the brownish green that we have in the islands peninsula of Spain.”

Surprisingly, Stephen had stopped cramming his mouth to its overflowing point and sat in silence, intently listening to the radio.

I sighed. “Sure sounds glorious, doesn’t it.”

“Yeah,” he answered, blankly staring out the window.


The next day, everything seemed to go smoothly for the crew as they continued their voyage to the moon. We heard them casually chatting on the radio with Mission Control.

“We’re right in the middle of eating our lunch right now, salmon salad, or something like that. That’s probably why we’re not answering you right away.”

“Got it.”

“My compliments to the chef, this salad salmon is outstanding.”

“Good to hear it. Understand you mean that’s the salad salmon. “

“Something like that, salmon salad.”

“There we go, the salmon salad. Very good.”

“By the sound of the music and Buzz singing along in the background, the crew seems to be enjoying their lunch period.”

Laughter echoed throughout Apollo 11 bringing enough relief for Stephen to crack a joke.

“Hey Viola, why is an astronaut like a football player?” he smirked.

I sarcastically glared at him. “Why?”

Because they both want touchdowns,” he continued to laugh so hard he almost fell over.

I don’t understand why he thinks these type of jokes are so funny. Maybe it’s just a universal dad thing.


The clanging of our terribly obnoxious alarm clock jolted me awake. I gasped and sat straight up in bed.

“Stephen. Stephen! It’s today,” I shouted.

He rolled over and opened one eye. “Huh?”

“The moon landing! Goodness gracious, do you have Alzheimer’s?”

“Oh. Yes. I Apollo-gize,” he snickered.

I stared at him in disbelief, “Stephen. I can’t believe you just said that.” I rolled my eyes.

Flinging off the covers and jumping out of bed, he hurriedly turned on the television. “The Archie Show” was on.

“I wonder when they’ll switch to the moon landing broadcast,” he sighed.

“Hopefully in the next few hours.” I replied.

We made breakfast and waited for the broadcast to come on.


With only a few minutes until landing, we anxiously stared at the screen and heard Neil speaking to Mission Control.

“Current altitude about 46,000 feet, continuing to descend. 2 minutes 20 seconds. Altitude rate about 2 feet per second greater than it ought to be. I think it’s gonna drop.”

My heart pounded. “Oh no.”

Stephen turned pale. “They-they’ve come so far, they can’t let something go wrong now!?” he stammered.

Mission Control responded, “Eagle, Houston. You are-“

All of a sudden, the screen flickered, and went completely black.

I screamed, “WHAT? NO!”

Panic-stricken, Stephen ran to our circuit breaker panel and flipped several switches.

“Try turning on the tv!” he yelled.

Frantically obeying his order, my trembling fingers turned the power knob and I angrily punched the tv box. With tears streaming down my face, I recited Psalm 121:7, a comforting Bible verse I had learned as a child, “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life.” Stephen ran panting back into the room as a feeling of peace came upon me. I knew God would protect my son. The tv slowly flickered back on and the beautiful sound of Mission Control filled the room as the Eagle prepared for landing.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Stephen, we caught it just in time!” I was ecstatic.

We were too excited to speak, so we just listened.

“Drifting right. Contact light. Okay, engine stop. ACA out of detent. Modes control both auto, descent engine command override, off. Engine arm, off. 413 is in. We copy you down, Eagle.”

Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed” (NASA).


Works Cited

Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary.” NASA. 16 Jul. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2018.

“FAQs: popular 20th century American foods.” Food Timeline. 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.

“Historical Events in 1969.” On This Day. n.d. Web. Feb. 2018.

Koestler-Grack, Rachel A. Neil Armstrong. Pleasantville: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2010. Print.

Neil Armstrong.” Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.

“Moon Jokes.” Jokes4us. 2018. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.

Pearson, Steve. “What Happened in 1969 Important News and Events, Key Technology and                           Popular Culture.” The People History. 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.



Gorman, Robert F. Great Events from History: The 20th Century, 1941-1970. Salem Press, 2008.        Print.

Margin, Erica. “What Happens on a Student’s First Solo Flight?” Phoenix East Aviation. 6 Aug.                                   2017. Web. 31 Jan. 2018.

Nexus6j. “Apollo 11: Lunar Landing July 20, 1969.” YouTube. 31 Aug. 2007. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.

“On a mission: Restoration to return NASA Mission Control room to Apollo glory.”                                                 CollectSpace. 2018. Web. 31 Jan. 2018.