Where were you on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon? What were you doing on October 4, 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik? Do you remember April 12, 1981, when the space shuttle Columbia made its first flight?
In 2008, the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival included the program “NASA: Fifty Years and Beyond,” and as part of that program, visitors were encouraged to document (written on note cards and recorded on tape) their memories of America’s space program. A few of the festival-goer’s memories appear below.
As the 50th anniversary year of human spaceflight draws to a close, we ask you to remember your own space milestones. After you read the remembrances here, leave a comment to tell us where you were, what you saw, and how you felt.
I had just learned to drive my husband’s stick shift car. He worked in the simulation lab with astronauts. I was stopped in front of their building to pick up my husband. As he got into the car, he said, “There’s Neil.” I said, “Neil who?” He said, “Armstrong! Who else?” At that point I went limp, the clutch jumped, the car lurched forward, and Neil just missed being hit.
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. I remember Werner von Braun was our most famous citizen. Huntsville was very sleepy until Sputnik was launched. All of a sudden, Huntsville became a hotbed of activity, all centered on the space program. Within three years, the U.S. had an active space program. Many of the engines for spacecraft were built in Huntsville. Huntsville calls itself “The Space Capital of the Universe” now. In 1950, it was known as “the Watercress Capital of the U.S.” Things change!
In 1957 Sputnik went up and the talk was that U.S. students had to catch up academically. I was 10 years old—the next day was the first time we ever had homework in school.
I was in second grade when the entire student body of Norfeld Elementary reported to the auditorium to watch a not-very-big portable black-and-white TV for a Mercury capsule splashdown in the Atlantic. We were all worried that it could miss and veer back into space forever. (It went OK.)
When I was in elementary school, a man came to the school and sang songs about Black Holes. Needless to say, I was terrified.
I’ve been fascinated by space exploration for my entire life. My family tells me that my first word was “moon.” Now I work as a NASA contractor, on a mission to the Moon (LRO). I’m grateful to be standing on the shoulders of giants, the men and women before and beside me that helped NASA and all space agencies achieve what they have. And we’re only at the beginning of the adventure.