There was no such thing as YouTube in 1969. If you missed watching an important event on TV, you couldn’t Google it to catch up. For the most part, you just had to be there.
The Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, was one of those important events. As Neil Armstrong descended the steps of the lunar module and became the first person to set foot on the moon, the world’s eyes seemed to be upon him.
Here is a selection of their responses, which have been edited and condensed for clarity. Please use the comments to share your own memories.
‘FIND SOMEPLACE WITH A TV’
We almost missed it as we headed home from the lake. It was late. We were on a dark empty road paved with gravel that we had driven on for miles without seeing a house, a light or another car. We were listening to a radio station that crackled and faded in and out as signals were found and lost and found again.
As it became clear that the astronauts were about to step out of the lunar module, the pressure on my dad mounted to FIND SOMEPLACE WITH A TV NOW. At that point, I think we would have stopped at any house we saw and asked to come in and watch their TV with them.
With only minutes to go, we saw the lighted sign of a gas station in the true middle-of-nowhere, Missouri. We pulled off near the pumps and our tires made that “ding ding” sound that cars always triggered at gas stations back then.
We went into the station and found an older man sitting in the dark with only the black and white of his tiny television flickering in the dust and the stagnant air that smelled of rubber tires and motor oil. He was sitting in the only chair and so we, my mom and dad and brother and I, sat down on the cold dirty floor. And there, surrounded by the mechanics of autos, we watched a man step down onto the moon.
— Russ Ann Oppermann, Olathe, Kan.
‘A television set was brought out to the center of the stage’
I was 5 years old and staying with my family at our “summer house,” a rustic cottage in rural Upper Greenwood Lake, N.J. We attended a local performance of the musical “The Fantasticks” that afternoon, and I was enraptured.
The show suddenly stopped and a television set was brought out to the center of the stage. The actors, still in costume, gathered cross-legged on the stage to watch the moon landing, joined by the audience.
I vaguely remember the television images of the moon landing itself. More indelible for me is the memory of how momentous it seemed when the magical stage performance I had been watching came to a halt so that the actors could join us in watching something unique and important.
— Thea Lawton, Anchorage
‘Some of us were disappointed’
I was in summer camp in upstate New York. We had one TV, an old black and white set, in a large room with beat-up couches. More than 100 campers and counselors crowded into the room.
We saw Neil Armstrong step from the ladder and heard him say, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” He left out the “a” before “man.” The sentence made no sense. Some of us were disappointed that our first step onto the lunar surface began with poor English.
[As The Times’s 2012 obituary for Armstrong states: “His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether he said ‘man’ or an indistinct ‘a man.’]
Some also weren’t thrilled to find out that the plaque left on the moon bore the signature of Richard Nixon.
— S. Finkelstein, Lewes, Del.
‘A full roll’
One of the images taken of the moon landing being shown on Felice Frankel’s television set.CreditFelice Frankel
I still have the black and white negatives we shot off the TV — a full roll.
— Felice Frankel, Boston
‘The only car on the road’
We were visiting relatives in New Jersey on the day of the landing. We watched the landing on TV there. (I think my father was disappointed that Walter Cronkite wasn’t on the moon to personally show the landing and to interview the astronauts.)
We took off for home, where we planned to watch the moonwalk. Originally there were many hours until the moonwalk, so we had plenty of time. However, as we drove up, the radio informed us that NASA was continually moving up the time of the moonwalk, so we became a bit nervous.
As we drove through our hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., on the normally busy highway, we realized that we were the only car on the road! Everyone was home watching the spectacle. Fortunately, we arrived home with some time to spare, so we were able to watch the moonwalk.
— Lee Schechter, Binghamton, N.Y.
‘We were all completely silent’
I was spending the summer on Monhegan Island, where we had a family home. The island had no electricity, but across the street June Day had a generator. She put her TV in her front yard and a crowd gathered to watch the event.
Watching TV on the island was novel, but seeing the first man on the moon was unforgettable. We were all completely silent.
— William Vaughan Jr., Chebeague Island, Me.
‘A profound impact’
I was 8 years old and watched the moon landing from my parents’ living room in Nashville. It had a profound impact on my life. So much so, I now work for NASA, made friends with Neil, Buzz [Aldrin] and Mike [Collins] and have managed the anniversary commemorations for the agency since the 35th anniversary of the lunar landing.
— Bob Jacobs, Washington
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