July 20 marks 50 years since man first stepped on the moon. Chickamauga resident Bonnie Falkenberry remembers it well. She was living in West Point, Ga., and was pregnant with her third child and busy chasing after her two other youngsters.
“We just had a little old black and white TV,” says Falkenberry. “Our friends across the street called and said, ‘Why don’t you come over and we’ll cook pizza and watch the moon landing?’ Their TV was two inches bigger than ours.”
“That moon landing seemed unreal,” says Falkenberry. “It seemed like it was interfering with God’s work, like man wasn’t supposed to land on the moon. It was unnatural. It doesn’t seem that way anymore, but it’s like when Kennedy was shot — something that became instilled in you, you always remember where you were when it happened.”
Humankind has long been interested in space, but 1957 marked a turning point in the race to actually travel there. On Oct. 4, the Soviets launched a small satellite — just 23 inches across, with four antennae sticking out of it — into space. The satellite was called Sputnik I. It orbited earth for three weeks before losing battery power. Two months after that, it sputtered back into earth’s atmosphere and burned up.
Fort Oglethorpe resident Tim Champlin recalls his glimpse of Sputnik I. “We heard it would be visible from earth, so we went outside to watch for it,” he says. “It was a white spot, like a star, moving across the sky. Somehow it made me think that Russia was a lot closer to us than I realized.”
Champlin says he also recalls that Sputnik I motivated a lot of people to go to engineering school.
The successful launch of the Soviet satellite alarmed America. There was concern about nuclear weapons ending up in space and being able to target the United States or anywhere on earth. The U.S. increased its space efforts and sent its own satellites into orbit.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged Congress to approve a space program that would put man on the moon before 1970. “We choose to go to the moon,” he said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.”
The moon is roughly 239,000 miles away from earth. A round trip to the moon is the equivalent of nearly 112 round trips – 7,000 hours by car – between northwest Georgia and Los Angeles, California.
On July 20, 1969, eleven years after NASA was founded, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface 19 minutes later.
“That’s one small step for a man,” Armstrong said as he placed a foot on earth’s only natural satellite, “one giant leap for mankind.”
Lynn Long of Fort Oglethorpe says he remembers the excitement of the occasion.
Fort Oglethorpe resident Pat Silcox recalls Armstrong bouncing as he stepped onto the moon. “It was unbelievable, awesome,” she says. Her husband, Harold, was in Vietnam and says he was unaware it was going on.
Tim Champlin says he didn’t watch it until later, but he recalls where he was when it happened. He and a few friends had joined a pick-up softball game at Centennial Park in Nashville. There was an altercation between two players on opposing teams that ended with one taking after the other with a gun. “I wasn’t a big fan of space travel,” says Champlin, “but I did think it was really cool and watched reruns of it later.” It made enough of an impression on him that he connected his scare on the ball field with the day man walked on the moon.
Fort Oglethorpe resident Dr. Larry Rosser remembers exactly where he was the day Armstrong stepped from the lunar module. “I was in the Army, stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas,” he says. “A bunch of us were sitting around a TV watching. It was a long, slow process, but we all started clapping when Armstrong put his foot on the moon. I was proud to be a part of this country.”
That first human trip to the moon took 195 hours and 13 minutes round-trip, though it was years in the making.
Twelve men have now walked on the moon. While space exploration has produced amazing results over the past 50 years, including space stations where people have lived for up to 14 months, no human being has set foot on the moon since 1972.