On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon, just eight years after President John F. Kennedy promised, “We choose to go to the Moon." Here we feature stories of those individuals who made the Moon landing possible, in their own words.
“This launch belongs to each of them..." Neil Armstrong
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, we continue to draw inspiration from this monumental event. It took over 400,000 people almost a decade to land two men on the Moon. It is estimated that 600,000,000 people across the globe tuned in to watch the Apollo 11 crew land on the Moon. Truly, this “moonshot” was on a global scale never seen before, with an international interest yet to be repeated. From the collaborative nature of the Apollo program, to memories of the historic event, to continual inspiration for future generations, we celebrate Apollo. (image courtesy of NASA)
Dressing for the Moon
Robert Davidson (holding microphone on the left) was an engineer on the team tasked with the development and creation of the Apollo spacesuits. “We contracted through Playtex to build and develop the spacesuits. I said, ‘I have to be honest, I have no idea how to make a spacesuit.’ And they said, ‘Neither do we.’ Everything you can imagine in engineering is in a spacesuit. I really view it as a personal spacecraft. It’s your home. There’s nothing more personal to an astronaut. And so they paid a lot of attention to us.”
“That was cool. We did that.” - Robert Davidson
“I’ll tell you what was cool…you look at that impression on the Moon, we did that. You look at that footprint, everybody on our team had tears in their eyes. In the history of mankind, it was the first imprint on a foreign body, and we made it. That’s cool. That’s really cool. Stress was not the environment at all. It was not pressure, it was motivation. We’re going to do it, we’re a team. People did things as a team.” (image courtesy of NASA)
Reatha Clark King was a physical chemist and principal investigator at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), contracted to work with NASA to study select chemicals of special interest for rocket fuel systems. “Being a Black American in an era before the passage of civil rights laws, I had to figure out hurdles and travel uncharted paths to prepare myself to participate in the unthinkable opportunity to help achieve our country’s goal to land a man on the Moon. The idea of sending a man to the Moon had ignited my imagination along with that of the rest of our country, particularly scientists. Overall, my area of concentration was thermochemistry. The final report contained the data sought, and this was the heat of formation of oxygen difluoride. Along the way, I received an Outstanding Performance Award for my work.”
“That work taught me the meaning of possible!” -Reatha Clark King
“I felt full of joy, and so empowered and grateful that in a small way, I was a part of this tremendous accomplishment for our country. My work on the NASA contract for the Apollo 11 project inspired me greatly...it continues to motivate me to be better and better in all that I do. That work taught me the meaning of possible! While in my prestigious laboratory at NBS, I was setting materials on fire in my fluorine calorimetry experiments for my controlled chemical reactions, civil rights protesters were setting things on fire in the streets!”
"We can do anything we set our minds to..."- Reatha Clark King
“Early on, the space program, and particularly the Apollo 11 project, held our society in awe of achieving an impossible challenge. I am hoping that this achievement will continue to be remembered and that it will continue to remind our country that we can do anything we set our minds to doing, even though the odds against success might be very great. This would include improving race relations in whatever communities where there exists the need. This also includes improving the quality of life for people in our local, national and global communities, wherever and whenever the need exists.” (image courtesy of NASA)
Pieces of the Moon
John Wood was a planetary scientist at NASA who studied the lunar samples the Apollo 11 astronauts brought back from the Moon. This image shows astronaut and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin deploying two components of the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP) on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (image courtesy of NASA). “It had been nearly two months since astronauts first stepped onto the lunar surface, and while the world was still enchanted, NASA had called scientists to get to work on an often-underappreciated aspect of the Apollo missions: samples. By then I had started a career aimed at studying extraterrestrial rocks (meteorites), so quite by accident I found myself ideally qualified for such research. My group studied and described 1,676 tiny (1-2 millimeters) rock fragments from the Apollo soil sample. We discovered an unexpected minor population of white fragments (anorthosite) mixed with abundant black fragments of the anticipated mare basalt, which we concluded must be samples of the light-colored lunar highlands that surround the mare basins.”
“An historic moment” - John Wood
“In spite of the very poor and incomplete quality of the Apollo 11 TV transmission...I was fascinated, you may be sure, proud of my involvement in the program, very conscious that this was an historic moment, and anxious to get my hands on some of the samples. Often when we reflect on Apollo 11’s importance, we focus on the political, cultural, and historical sectors. Of course, these are important. But doubtless, one of the program’s greatest impacts was the revolution it brought to lunar science.”
Navigating to the Moon
Kerri Schoonyoung (granddaughter of the deceased Edward Fay) shares his story. “I recently discovered my grandfather, Edward (Ned) Fay, was recognized with several awards from NASA for his contribution to the space program. The discovery was a bit of a surprise to all of our family as his career did not start on a typical path. Following in his father’s footsteps, Ned graduated high school and began his career at the Waltham Watch (Co.) factory in the early 1900s. Ned left Waltham Watch to join MIT’s research lab, The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. Most notable is his contribution to the Apollo Primary Guidance, Navigation and Control System.”
"Furthering space exploration"- Kerri Schoonyoung (Granddaughter of Edward Fay)
“What has inspired me most in my grandfather’s story is that he did not come from a typical aeronautics background, nor did he study space science in a prestigious college. He was a watchmaker following in his father’s footsteps and he kept taking one step in front of the other all the while contributing to the Apollo 11 mission in his own way. He dedicated the last twenty years of his career helping to land the first man on the Moon and furthering space exploration.”
"Grandfather was right"- Jim Tomczyk
“When my family and I were watching the Apollo 11 EVA live, my Sicilian grandfather began crying. We asked him what was wrong and he said he never thought he’d live long enough to see man fly to the Moon. He proceeded to tell us a story from when he and his father saw aviator Italo Balbo land his fleet of seaplanes in Lake Michigan for the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair. While they were walking back home, they were saying how remarkable it was that aircraft could fly across the ocean. My grandfather then told his father that someday men would fly to the Moon! His father replied that he was crazy and that would never happen. My grandfather was right and I’ll always remember his story.” In 1969, Onofrio Martorana had recently retired from working as a construction worker with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and was living with his wife in a bungalow in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side.
"Space was in my DNA"- Bob Paszczyk
“Growing up in the 1950s and maturing in the 1960s, interest in space was in my DNA. I was at my parent's home watching the event on a massive 21” Zenith color television. One street from us, my grandmother, who was alive during the Wright Brothers’ first flight, was also watching in amazement. At 9:56:15 CDT, that evening Neil Armstrong took his ‘One small step for man.’ I went to the window and looked up at the shining orb where two Americans were residing. Years later, I learned that an engineer I attended Mt. Carmel HS with, Dr. Jacob ‘Jake’ Matijevic (in the second row, black sweater), was instrumental as project manager in the development of the Mars Exploration Rovers.” In 1969, Bob Paszczyk (seen here in the second row, left of Jake Matijevic) married his wife Sandy and began working in public accounting. He went on to receive a pilot's license, his PADI certified diver license, and still has a monthly lunch with his school friends.
Opening Space to All
Beth Moses previously worked with NASA as the assembly manager for the International Space Station and currently serves as the Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor and Commercial Astronaut. Moses was the first female to make a spaceflight on a commercially launched vehicle.“I am a child of the Shuttle era but Apollo's blood runs true in me: Apollo astronauts invented the practices that Space Shuttle and Space Station astronauts taught me, which qualified me to serve as an astronaut on Virgin Galactic's test flight VF01. I learned from Apollo, Shuttle, and Station experts how best to perform human-in-the-loop testing in extreme environments and ultimately performed the first cabin test on SpaceShipTwo.” (image courtesy of Virgin Galactic)
"I floated weightless on those shoulders" - Beth Moses
“All human spaceflight stands on the shoulders of giants, none taller than the legends of Apollo. I humbly stood, or rather floated weightless, on those shoulders on January 22, 2019, in order to open space for all. Humanity is about to enter space in droves.” (image courtesy of Virgin Galactic)
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Going to the Moon was more than a techno-scientific endeavor fueled by Cold War politics. At once a megalomaniac, meticulous, and trailblazing event, the Moon landing is certain to have struck something deep in every single person who partook in it — from those who maneuvered the political front lines, to the astronauts themselves; from the multitude of often overlooked experts and workers who tackled challenges and tiny details, to the members of the public who experienced the event as a mixture of dream and drama. Whether people go back to the Moon or not, we are certain to continue to go back to this historic moment in search of inspiration. Let us take the opportunity to ask what could be different, and what could be better, as the human venture into outer space evolves in ways that might well surprise us again. (image courtesy of Chicago History Museum)
The staff of the Adler Planetarium thanks all those who contributed their stories and their memories for the creation of this exhibition. Thank you to: Robert Davidson, Reatha Clark King,John Wood, Kerri Schoonyoung, Jim Tomczyk, Bob Paszczyk, Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic, University of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, and NASA.
Visit us here: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org