"Girls! Girls!" someone hollered from outside the big red barn. I was at Rambling Acres Horseback-Riding Camp, near Canton, Ohio. "Put your brooms away and come up to the house! They've landed on the Moon!"
I didn't need a second invitation. I'd enthusiastically followed the space program since first grade when John Glenn had orbited the Earth. I was 14 now, and I loved space even more than horses. The previous spring, I'd even written and hand printed a 60-page book, "The Apollo Program" for my eighth-grade English class.
I dashed from the stall, latching the gate behind me, and ran up the dusty road to the camp owner's house. "Wait up!" my best friend Chrisse hollered as she scampered up the road behind me, followed by the other girls.
The owner, Mrs. Noll, insisted we brush dust and straw off each other's clothes and remove our dirty shoes before entering her house.
Then we filed into her living room and settled down cross-legged on the carpet, facing the television set. The TV was a stand-alone piece of furniture, a box on legs about three feet tall with "rabbit ears" antenna. The picture was in black and white.
The familiar face of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite appeared on the screen. In his deep voice, he explained that Mission Control in Houston had given Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the "go" to exit their spacecraft. The men had been scheduled to sleep but were too keyed up after the exciting first landing on the Moon.
I was keyed up, too. It was the first day of camp, and I'd just met five new girls. We had plenty to talk about while we waited for the astronauts to leave the lunar lander. "Which one do you think is the cutest?" Sue asked me as we loaded our plates for dinner.
"It doesn't matter," I said, snatching a roll. "They're married!"
Sue frowned and then sighed as she scooped beans onto her plate. "Wouldn't it be dreamy to marry an astronaut?"
"Yeah," I agreed. Then I added silently, "But even better if you could be one!"
We finished dinner, and the astronauts still hadn't emerged from their ship. We wondered what they were having for dinner. (I found out later, bacon cubes. Yuk!) We trotted back to the barn for evening chores. I brushed the horse who shared my nickname, Red. Then we got our showers and returned to Mrs. Noll's house.
The television spurted static-filled voices of the crew talking with Mission Control. What was taking so long? Why didn't they just open the door and hop out? Bedtime came and went. Luckily, Mrs. Noll let us stay up for this historic occasion.
Finally, six hours after Apollo 11 landed, the ghostly black and white "live from the Moon" image flickered on the screen. At 10:39 p.m. Eastern time, Armstrong spoke the now-famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," as he stepped backwards off the ladder onto the lunar surface. I remember thinking how I'd like to follow in his footsteps.
But in 1969, there was no such thing as a female astronaut. No woman in my family had even gone to college. Yet, the previous winter, I'd written in my diary, "I wish very much to be able to be an astronaut. I'm sorry I'm a girl, but I'll have to try harder then."
As I gazed up at the half-full Moon that July night, I marveled that there were men up there looking back at me. If those men could walk on the Moon, then maybe a skinny red-headed girl from a small town in Ohio could find a way to go to college and one day work for NASA.
Just ten years after the Moon landing, I was hired by NASA to become one of the first female flight controllers. In 1982, I had the privilege of working at a console in the historic Mission Control room (during the fifth Space Shuttle flight) that has now been restored to the way it looked in 1969.
While at summer camp, I could never have imagined that 50 years later, I’d not only have worked in Mission Control alongside some of the “unsung heroes” of Apollo and the first female astronauts, but I’d also coauthored two children’s books with Buzz Aldrin and be releasing a new book, Welcome to the Moon, commissioned by Buzz’s son, Andrew, to help inspire a new generation of lunar explorers. (See below.)
One thing I also could not have imagined back then is that 50 years would pass without a woman setting foot on the Moon. So as I gaze up at the Moon this July and celebrate the historic achievement, I’ll be thinking about what more I can do to help young people acquire that “can-do” Apollo spirit that will motivate them to harvest the unlimited resources and exciting opportunities space still has to offer.
Writing about Space
Apollo 11 lifted off at 9:32 EDT on July 16, 1969. The Eagle landed on July 20 and lifted off the Moon to return to Earth on July 21.
So in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first trip to the Moon, at 9 am on July 16, the Amazon eBook of Welcome to the Moon (by Marianne Dyson and Lindsey Cousins with a foreword by Buzz Aldrin’s son Andrew), drops from $9.98 to 99 cents and stays that price until 5 PM on July 21 when they lifted off of the Moon. Autographed print copies can be ordered through my website. All proceeds benefit STEM education via the Aldrin Family Foundation and ShareSpace Education.
July 25, 1:30-4 PM, Two Space Authors & an Astronaut. Join me, Melanie Chrismer, and a surprise astronaut (sorry, not Buzz!) at Evelyn Meador Library, 2400 North Meyer Ave, Seabrook, TX 77596, 281-474-9142. I’ll use models and share excerpts from my books to show how Apollo went to the Moon and Back. Books may be offered for sale by the Friends of the Library. Free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Seabrook.