Readers of the Daily Post had vivid memories of the day 50 years ago when American astronauts walked on the moon for the first time.
One reader interrupted his honeymoon to watch the moonwalk, others took pictures or filmed the black-and-white TV images, and some marveled at how far man had come from the horse-and-buggy age just a half century earlier.
The Post asked readers to email us with their experiences watching the moon landing and moon walk on July 20, 1969.
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Dad held back tears
Ross Glanville recalls: “I saw the first moon landing with my dad, in our house in Palo Alto. I was 16. He was a World War II fighter pilot in the 325th Fighter Group with 60 missions and a Distinguished Flying Cross. He woke us up early to watch the entire broadcast. I can still remember Neil Armstrong saying ‘the eagle has landed’ and having the amazed feeling that humans were actually sitting on the moon. We teared up and it’s the only time I can remember my dad holding back tears. I felt the earth became one because everyone alive was watching.”
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What a honeymoon
George de Leon of Mountain View writes, “This a great memorable day for my wife (Marylin) and I. We got married on July 19, 1969. We stayed at the Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto for our honeymoon. Instead of doing the usual thing for honeymooners we watched the man landing on the moon. We never forget that moment.”
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Robin Walker Duggan recalls: “Our family has a very special reason to remember what we were doing on the day of the moon walk. I was at my sister’s (Marcy Walker McCleary) wedding on July 20, 1969 (the day of the moon landing and walk). My father, Keith Walker, longtime reporter for the Palo Alto Times and Redwood City Tribune, had set up a small black and white TV so all the guests at the reception could watch the moon walk. My sister was married at Palo Alto’s First Methodist Church in downtown Palo Alto. She and her husband (James McCleary) are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year — so another significant reason to celebrate!”
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‘Funny, puffy white suit’
Lori Heathorn of Palo Alto says: “I was 7 years old and doing a summer school course at Country Club Elementary in San Ramon. … The AV man wheeled in a TV set and I was so excited since it was my birthday and I thought it was some kind of treat. Instead, we watched a man in a funny, puffy white suit lumber off a tiny ladder on to a grainy black and white planet straight out of a sci-fi movie. Our teacher explained that it was a real man walking on the moon. I don’t recall being aware of the event until this day. I do remember looking at the moon later that day and being worried the men would fall off!
“Many years later, when I was 30 years old and at San Jose State University, a sweet young boy was trying to ask me out, and I just could not persuade him that I was a bit too old for him. So, I told him that I was alive when the Beatles were together, when both Kennedys were alive, and we hadn’t been to the moon yet. For him, being born 20 years after the event, suddenly I was as old as Methuselah!”
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Crossing the threshold
Dorothy North was working the night shift as a nurse’s aide at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. when man first walked on the moon. She watched on black and white TVs while moving from room to room, recording vital signs.
“It was quiet. The hall lights were dimmed. But a shaky bluish light poured out of all of the patients’ rooms. All of the TVs were on, even that of Leandro, who was terminally ill and semi-conscious. Everything was slow-moving and deliberate — almost tedious — as they prepared for the time when Neil Armstrong would open the capsule, descend the ladder and step onto the moon. The calm, measured voices coming from NASA barely concealed their anxiety and tension. But I had to balance my attention between attending to the patients and watching the images on the TV screen. If it looked like something important was about to happen, I lingered in a room; during periods when it seemed like they were taking a breather, I walked quickly to the next room and picked up the thread there.
“In the back of my mind a silly anxiety: Would Armstrong disappear into the lunar dust like quicksand, the way I’d seen in old, late-night TV adventures?
“I checked on Leandro. His breathing was shallow, his pulse thready and weak. But he was still among us. I noticed the straw hat his family had left on his bedside table. Was it a generous and hopeful gesture? Did they think he might suddenly recover, put on his hat and stroll out onto Cambridge Street? Or were they, like the ancient Egyptians, leaving him familiar objects that he might need in the next world?
“Finally, the moment came. The ghostly, other-worldly image of the bulky figure started carefully backing down the ladder. And then Armstrong stepped onto the the moon and did not disappear. He said something, but the audio feed was crackly and not quite intelligible. But there he was. A man on the moon. Something momentous had happened. Some threshold had been crossed.
“When I returned to the hospital the following night, Leandro and his straw hat were gone, and the TVs were turned off.”
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Would there be aliens?
Wayne Grant writes: “In the deep South, I finished my chores. Grandma and I watched with much anticipation a report of Apollo 11 landing on a black and white television. We had no concerns for the Astronauts because back then television was viewed as good entertainment, even news.
“I was a loner with a vivid imagination and hope that aliens would greet the astronauts and someday the aliens and us might become friends.
“I could not wait for nightfall to see if I might get a glimpse of the astronauts on the moon from a country starry sky. I was a country teen in middle school unprepared for the shock of mandated desegregation and busing that followed.
“Fast forward. July 10, 2019. I’m drinking my usual McDonald’s coffee as I read The Post. A man in a robe walks by my booth and goes to a restroom. I reflect on Apollo 11. It’s ironic that back then everything seemed black and white. Everybody had some place they could call home. Television and written media was significant in that it allowed us to see space. It helped expand virtues of our humanity. At least we were not alien to one another. Today technology continues to make advances. I’m not sure about humanity.”
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‘A smile and a tear’
Fred Balin recalls: “I was a young counselor at a sleepaway camp in the Poconos, a summer job and a break from the steaming metropolis. It was late afternoon in the east, but inside the large wooden structure it was already quite dark save for the flickering light up front. A small television, wireless via its requisite rabbit ears, was center stage.
“About 200 campers were seated with the youngest on the floor, right up front.
“I was in the back and could hear little or nothing coming from the TV, but like a giant game of telephone, key words were somehow disseminated. As I recall, the anchors’ expressions conveyed the seriousness and suspense, as did the period when there was no radio contact between Earth and capsule. I have no idea how long we all sat and stared, pondered and whispered.
“Through one of the many miracles of the mission, we all saw the historic descent down the ladder and the culminating footfalls. What a moment! Of course, the assembled erupted. ‘Men Walk on Moon’ was the New York Times headline the next day. It was plastered oversize for years to come within a local restaurant my parents often took me to. It always brings a smile and a tear.”
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A concern for safety
During the late 1960s, Palo Altan Bob Moss worked for TRW in El Segundo. They designed and built the lunar Landing Module for the Apollo program, and he worked on that project.
“During the landing, I was in our operations center with lots of other employees watching the landing, and for us more importantly, the firing and launch of the Lander to take the astronauts off the moon.
“It was very exciting to be part of that historic program.
“Even more important to us was the safe return of the astronauts of the Apollo 13 mission when our Lander fired safety for more than twice the planned time circling the moon and brought them safely home. They were so grateful that after the aircraft carrier picked them up near Hawaii, they sailed to L.A. Harbor and took a motorcade to our plant where they thanked all of us for saving their lives.”
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‘We can do anything’
Alice Mansell of Palo Alto, who calls herself a “child of Apollo” recalled that “as a young grammar school kid, I watched the Apollo 11 launch in Sunnyvale at a neighbors’ house because they had color TV. At least four families packed in to watch. Everyone was tense until the astronauts were safely in orbit. We gathered again, even more worried, to watch the re-entry and splashdown.
“We all knew the whole flight would be extremely dangerous. Almost all the neighborhood fathers looked like NASA mission controllers in our proto-Silicon Valley. White pressed shirts, skinny ties, shined shoes and military haircuts. My Mom had been interviewed almost every month by the FBI to help update neighbors’ security clearances for their work with missiles and satellites. One father on the block worked on ablative shields at Lockheed. (Years later, we learned he worked on the Corona spy satellites.) He taught me how to spell ‘ablative’ and how easy it was for those shields to fail. Capsule re-entry was the part of Apollo 11 I worried about the most, imagining astronauts burning up.
“Right after the moonwalk, my dad and I went to our driveway to look at the moon through the old orchard walnut tree in our front yard. I was so proud of all those who had worked to get Neil and Buzz up there and thought of them sleeping on the moon while I slept in Sunnyvale that same night surrounded by engineers and many others who’d helped them get there.
“I was firmly convinced that evening that 50 years later if I wanted to go to the moon I could simply buy a ticket on PanAm and stay at a Hilton hotel for a vacation.
“To this day when our country is faced with a challenge, I will tell myself, ‘If we can send a man to the moon, we can do anything.’ And, I mean anything! I always will.”
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A small TV in a bar
Nancy Barnby recalls that on July 20, 1969 she and some friends were “headed south to the Salinas Rodeo in a late 50s era convertible, hair blowing in the wind. Of course, we did realize what would happen later that day, and one of our number had brought a small transistor radio which we kept tuned to NASA news at the rodeo as we watched horses and steers attempt to throw their riders in the tried-and-true manner of the Old West.
“As we headed back north, we learned that the moon landing was imminent. Our driver swung his car into the parking lot of an isolated nondescript bar, and we eagerly filed in. I’ve watched various recreations of the event and both recent films, but nothing tops the memory of fixating on a small TV set at the end of a bar, fixating on two men who walked on the moon.”
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So much to ponder
Patrick Kelvie remembers seeing the moonwalk while standing on a sidewalk, looking at a TV set in the window of a U.S. embassy in a country in Eastern Europe, then behind the so-called Iron Curtain.
He said he was with his “best buddy (also 17 years old) and three young local folks we had met. Other locals of all ages also were there viewing.”
Kelvie recalls the “grainy but exciting” video of the moonwalk, an event he saw as being “next in line of a progression of achievements pushing frontiers.”
“It was nice U.S. publicity, generating positive local reactions that burnished an USA image that had been tarnished from questions and criticisms as to its role in Vietnam.”
But he asked: “How much of the positive local reaction was for the achievement itself, or for the USA values or leadership role in the world, or because the event represented a besting of the oppressive USSR and the satellite government that constrained their lives?”
The significance to him was that “science and technology offered so many promising developments. The event, when viewed in combination with history and politics, provided so much to think about.”
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Took pictures from TV
Brad Milliken was an elementary student at the time. “I was in Laguna Beach, glued to the television. I even set up my camera on a tripod and took pictures of the screen as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did their explorations of the lunar surface. I remember looking up at the moon and being overwhelmed to think that humans had finally traveled to another world.
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Soviets downplayed it
Michele M. Otte writes that he was one of two applicants from UC-Berkeley who was accepted into a work/study program through Indiana University that included six weeks in the then Soviet Union. The group’s trip to the Soviet Union began shortly before the moon landing and they were in Leningrad/St. Petersburg on July 20, 1969.
“We students were thrilled that the astronauts had successfully landed and were able to watch a snippet of the landing that was broadcast on the Soviet TV channel. I remember that there were about seven or eight of us gathered in one of our hotel rooms excitedly watching the short video of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface. I cannot remember if we all cheered, but I cannot imagine that we did not. I was very proud of what we Americans had been able to achieve. Given the little I saw back in ’69, it was amazing and very moving being able to watch the PBS broadcast this week.
“The Soviet newspaper account published the next day was on a middle page in a bottom corner and was only about 2 inches of column space. My recollection is that it merely mentioned the fact of the success of the lunar landing and who the astronauts were. There was no photo with the article. I knew that there was competition between our two nations, but I was surprised by the dearth of coverage in that newspaper because the accomplishment was and is important to all of humankind. I do not recall any major news stories showing up in other news sources. It was almost like it never happened as far as the Soviets were concerned. Certainly in retrospect I’m sure that the government did not want to tout our success or admit to the failure of their efforts to obtain lunar samples with their unmanned rocket/landing pod. At the time it just seemed very strange that there was no enthusiasm demonstrated for such an epic event, but my spirit was lifted by the news as I had been concerned about all the dangers involved.
“Being a language major, I was not aware of the significant scientific advancements that were possible as a result of all the trial and error and research, as well as the mathematics and physics that were involved in the whole effort to reach the moon. Many years later I participated in a NASA program for teachers regarding our space exploration and was able to touch a piece of lunar rock. That was a wonderful opportunity. To touch something extraterrestrial was incredible and made me feel like I was holding something almost sacred. I am glad that there is going to be an effort to allow more citizens to see and touch some of the lunar surface samples that have been brought back to Earth.
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Horses to spaceships
Barbara J. Lawler writes: “My grandfather was born in 1882 and had used horses for transportation before the automobile age. I remember sitting with him in front of the TV watching men step onto the moon. He was engrossed but not surprised that mankind could accomplish this.”
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Hard to sleep afterward
Jane Bernard of Redwood City was living in Geneva with her Swiss husband at the time of the moon landing. “As members of the American International Club, we were invited by the Swiss television station to watch the landing on their huge screens.
“The evening began with wine and hors d’oeuvres amid an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. When the actual landing happened, everyone cheered and screamed.
“There were no high-fives in those days!
“We got home around 2:30 a.m. and I woke up the children, 5 and 10, to tell them the good news. They were as excited as we were, and I think it was hard for any of us to get any sleep that night. Such an amazing evening!
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A view from the South
Kathryn H. Hug of Palo Alto writes that she and her husband and their two small children had been in Auburn, Ala., for one month.
“As we watched the moon landing, we felt like we, too, had arrived in another world. We had moved from Southern California to Alabama to be a part of Auburn University, a place where ‘Lysistrata’ was being performed in a campus amphitheater and the current War Eagle (Auburn’s symbol) was displayed in an elaborate outdoor cage. Space technology was being developed in Huntsville, and George Wallace waited between terms as governor. Integration was a hotter topic than the moon landing, and soon, Max Rafferty (former California school superintendent, education thinker and author) would move from California to Troy University to complete his career. In the fall of 1969, my freshman English students would teach me about the South as we read Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”
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‘Will never be forgotten’
Hildegard Cervenka of Palo Alto recalls that she and her husband lived in Palatine, Ill., and they watched the landing on TV. “Our 2-month-old daughter was with us and I told her, this was a wonderful event for all mankind which we were watching, something she would always be proud of. We were excited, hoping the landing would take place without problems and we were very relieved when Armstrong made the first steps on the moon. This June the two children of our daughter spent a week at Space Camp in Alabama and became aware of the excitement 50 years ago. This great event will never be forgotten.”
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Relief at mission’s end
Alan Karp was a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Maryland. “Needless to say, the moon landing was a big deal for us. We all gathered to watch, and everyone cheered when we knew the landing had been successful. I was happy, but I reserved my biggest cheer, actually a sigh of relief, for when the astronauts were safely on board the recovery ship.”
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Watched with astronauts
Sara Tsuboi of Palo Alto was just 8 at the time, but she knew it was a big deal. And she watched at her house with two astronauts.
“My dad was an Air Force fighter pilot who was teaching these two astronauts, who hadn’t been pilots, to fly planes. The men had become friends of my dad, so they came to our house to watch with our family (at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma). They were Karl Henize and Joe Allen.
“I had no awareness at all that anything could go wrong with the moon landing. It was a happy and exciting experience that my brother and I still remember.
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‘Proud to be an American’
Wendy Kahn of Palo Alto says that “in 1969 my husband Fred took a job with a Japanese Company, NEC, in Tokyo, Japan. Friends thought it was a very unusual step right after finishing his Ph.D. program at Harvard! They thought he should “start up the ladder” at IBM or Bell Labs. After all, who knew anything about living and working in Asia. There were no Japanese restaurants in Cambridge, Mass., and I didn’t like the idea of having to eat raw fish! People thought it was like going to the moon!
“So, we went anyhow. No one in our Tokyo neighborhood spoke English, rice was not sold in the town market, and there was NO internet.
“We did read The Japan Times, the only English newspaper, so we did know something about the USA going to the moon, but the launch information was vague because of the time difference.
“Well, on a very hot and humid July 20, I was downtown Ginza and what do I see in the department store window but a display of a giant pink rabbit pounding rice cakes, because the mythology in Japan when people gaze at the moon is that they see a rabbit pounding mochi (rice cakes). There were Japanese kanji, which, of course, I couldn’t read, but I got the message since we knew about the moon launch. At NEC, the scientists and engineers hovered around the TV, so Fred would see what was happening but he couldn’t understand the Japanese commentary! Everyone was very excited and awe-struck about the moon landing! I felt proud to be an American.”
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A thrill three days later
Peter Garrison says, “I saw the Moon Landing three days after it happened in Tegucigalpa, Honduras — it took that long for the film to get down to the local TV stations. I was an American Field Service scholarship student staying with a Honduran family. Our family watched from the living room and the mestizo maids had to watch from around the corner because they weren’t allowed in the living room. “The moon landing happened during the Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador that is sometimes called The Hundred Hour War. The war was from July 14 to July 18. I remember the house feeling very ‘closed in’ because we had black-out curtains on the windows.
“Though a teen, I was armed with a .22 rifle and asked to patrol the neighborhood with my Honduran friends. We had come in from ‘patrol’ to watch my country land on the moon. ‘Land on the moon’ is still thrilling to write!
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A treat from the chef
Art Liberman writes: “My wife, Annie, and I were in France in 1969 and 1970. At the time of the moon landing, we were traveling through Brittany and we stopped at a restaurant. It was a small, modest bistro, certainly family-owned, the kind one found alongside the roadway. A TV was mounted at the rear of the seating area showing the images from the moon landing that were transmitted by NASA. We told the waitress that we were Americans and shortly afterward, the chef — certainly the owner — came out of the kitchen holding ice cream in a dessert bowl into which he had inserted a small American flag and presented it to us. We were flustered; others in the restaurant cheered.”
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Filming the TV images
Thomas V. Mac Gowan writes: “I was just 15 years old, on track to the Air Force Academy. My parents thought I was crazy that I was up in the early hours with my Kodak M12 movie camera taking pictures of the TV to record it all.
“I had a telescope set up in my backyard in Barron Park set on the moon. I was going back and forth between the telescope and the TV. WHAT A NIGHT!
“As a young, aspiring astronaut all I could think about was the miracle of our country’s commitment to such a lofty goal.”
Mac Gowan said he met both Armstrong and Aldrin in Palo Alto. He recalled getting autographs and having short conversations. “It broke my heart when the Apollo missions ended but I’ll always have that young sense of wonder, of achievement, of historic demonstration, and childish glee thinking of those who contributed to such an historical event.”
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‘All or nothing’
Gordon Reade vividly recalled July 20, 1969. “I walked alone from my house at 2266 Bryant St. Palo Alto. Down California Avenue, I passed Bowden Park and proceeded through the pedestrian underpass that crossed Alma Street. It was about 4 in the afternoon and emerging from the underpass near the train station I looked up and caught sight of the waxing crescent moon. It was just two days from first quarter and never more beautiful. I could scarcely believe it but only hours before two brave Americans had landed on the moon as a third remained in lunar orbit. In just a few more hours Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would attempt the first moonwalk.
“I was all of 10 years old and in my mind humanity had only one of two possible futures. Either we’d move out to explore and settle other worlds or — failing to do so — we’d die right here on Earth leaving not a trace that we ever were. It was all or nothing and I considered the first possibility to be far more desirable than the second. I believed that Apollo 11 was the greatest thing that had ever happened on this world, or on any other, and I felt privileged to be alive at that exact moment. Not only alive but just old enough to fully appreciate what was about to happen.
“No one knew if this incredible venture would succeed or fail. We didn’t know if Armstrong and Aldrin would live or die. But regardless of the outcome I knew that people would be talking about this evening for a thousand years to come. I tried to commit every small detail of this day to memory. I had to remember it all because I knew I’d be talking about it 10, 20, even 50 years in the future. For as long as I lived Apollo 11 would be in living memory and if I lived long enough I might well be the last person to carry those memories.
“I stopped at Patterson’s Variety and Toys to buy a Mars bar. The Mars bar cost a dime. The man who sold it to me was a retiree who had lived in Palo Alto since before Palo Alto had cars. Imagine that! We had gone from horse and buggy to moon flight in a little more than 60 years; less than one lifetime. The first generation of airline pilots had yet to reach retirement age and we were going to the moon. How was that possible?
“However not everyone shared my unbridled enthusiasm for all things lunar. Walking back home, just a block from Bryant Street, I saw kindly old Mrs. Duff tending her garden. She smiled and waved and I waved back. The daughter of an American Christian missionary she had been born in China in the year 1884. As articulate in Mandarin as she was in English she proselytized to the Chinese during the waning years of the Qing dynasty. This was before the Boxer Rebellion. Mrs. Duff still had the passion and took it upon herself to evangelize to the neighborhood children myself included. I didn’t mind as she served the most delectable homemade lemon cookies. But her talk of needing Jesus to enter heaven was frankly pretty silly stuff. My family and I visited heaven three or four times each year except we called it Yosemite and we got there in our red VW van.
“For her part Mrs. Duff couldn’t understand all the hoopla surrounding landing a man on the moon or even the reasons for going. She felt that Apollo paled to insignificance in comparison to such truly momentous events as; the worldwide flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the immaculate conception, and so on. I was too polite (or more likely too fond of her lemon cookies) to come right out and say that those Bible stories were nonsensical. …
“That evening my parents, my older brother and I all gather around the family TV to watch the grainy black and white image of Neil Armstrong as he took those first steps on the Sea of Tranquility. Soon thereafter he was joined by Buzz as Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. The reality of the first moon landing was so much greater than what had been promised. President Kennedy had said we would, ‘Land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth before the decade was out.’ What many of us imagined was that Neil would climb out of the Lunar Module tethered to a 10- or 12-foot umbilical cord. That he would gather a few rocks, snap a few pictures and after about 10 minutes would climb back into the spacecraft and say, ‘We fulfilled Kennedy’s pledge. Now let’s go home.’
“What we got instead was both Neil and Buzz walking … around on the moon unencumbered in autonomous spacesuits doing actual science. There was a seismograph, a Laser Ranging Retro Reflector, a solar wind composition experiment, a soil mechanics investigation and many others. Just 40 miles from Palo Alto astronomers at Lick Observatory high atop Mt. Hamilton were using the mighty Shane Telescope to bounce a laser beam off the Laser Ranging Retro Reflector. Armstrong planted the American flag and received a phone call from the president. The whole world stopped to watch. It was grand.
“There were five more lunar landings, each an improvement on the one that had come before. A total of 12 men walked on the moon. Many have asked, what was the point of it all? Was it nothing more than an exercise in nationalistic-chest thumping? I’m writing these words from the same room in which I watched the moon landing all those many years ago. Speaking only for myself I can say that when the Apollo Project ended something wonderful went out of my life and it has yet to return.”
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