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50-Year-Old Memories Of Apollo 11


Today marks 50 years since Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. And this week, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has been commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by projecting the 363-foot Saturn V rocket on the Washington Monument. We caught up with some people watching the Apollo 11 event on the National Mall, people who were alive on that historic day five decades ago, and we asked them to tell us what they remember about it.

STUART BUTLER: Fifty years ago, I saw this - the landing on television in the U.K. when I was at university. I stayed up all night to watch it.

MCCAMMON: That's Stuart Butler. He's originally from the U.K.

BUTLER: I was sitting on a bed. It was my birthday in the U.K. when it happened on the 21 because I was hours ahead. So it was a birthday treat for me to see it (laughter).

MCCAMMON: He says he was in awe of what was happening.

BUTLER: It was just incredible. I mean, I was in another country. But just - it was fascinating just to kind of watch this and see it kind of unfold in black and white, of course, and just imagining all that went into achieving that and just how scary it was. Because, you know, we didn't know if it was going to succeed.

MCCAMMON: Deborah Simon was similarly awestruck when she saw it.

DEBORAH SIMON: In my living room at home watching it on the TV, of course - probably sitting too close and my mother saying, scoot back a couple more feet (laughter) because I was, like, a foot away. I just - and when it went off, it was just amazing. It was - and amazing's almost a weak word.

MCCAMMON: Good friends Sue Malik and Helen Maib also remember the landing vividly. Sue described the moment.

SUE MALIK: At home with my mom dad watching the black-and-white TV. We moved it into the living room, and we were all watching it together.

HELEN MAIB: My dad took Polaroid photos of the TV screen (laughter) when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon.

MCCAMMON: She recalls it was a family affair.

MAIB: I remember the moonwalk was late at night. We both grew up in Kansas, and we stayed up. And, like I said, my dad took photos. So he had turned out every light in the house to try to get these photos to come out. And they're still just very blurry. But that was a live TV photo (laughter).

MCCAMMON: Sue says space exploration captivated her as a young kid.

MALIK: Space was, like, everything. And so there was, like, an after-school special.

MAIB: Local show in our...

MALIK: Local show. And it was...

MAIB: ...Hometown.

MALIK: ..."Major Astro." You know, and he'd come on.


TOM LEAHY, JR: (As Major Astro) Now, you'll be with me tomorrow on the program, won't you, for sure? I certainly hope so because then everything is going to be A-OK, and all systems will be go. Happy orbits, boys and girls. I'll see you then. Mission Control, this is Major Astro, returning all systems to Earth Control.

MALIK: I guess I only bring that up is - it was really ingrained in the culture. You know, our astronauts, the space program, all of that, it was...

MAIB: A big deal.

MALIK: It was a big deal.

MCCAMMON: That was Sue Malik, Helen Maib, Deborah Simon and Stuart Butler remembering where they were during the moon landing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.