Jul 20 2009 4:30am

On July 20th, Charles Stross

Much to my surprise, I remember the Apollo 11 landing, and the first moon walk. My wife—who is 22 months younger than me—doesn’t. She was three years old at the time; I was not far off five, and somewhere in that gap lies that developmental point where most infants start to remember significant events.

I live in the UK. The precise moment when “Eagle” touched down, 20:17 UTC, would have been around 9pm; rather late for a toddler to be up, but I think I remember my parents bringing me into the living room to watch something important on the new, 625-line black-and-white PAL TV set. That memory is vague—I've seen footage of the descent so many times since that I can't rely on my own experience.

What I definitely remember is my mother waking me up really early—it was still dark—and bringing me downstairs. It would have been around 2am the next morning. I was sleepy, and couldn’t make much sense of what I was seeing on the screen; the upside-down image (at first), the hazy, ghosting figure in the big suit clinging to a ladder, very slowly climbing down it, the crackling static on the sound. I knew something important was happening, because my parents had woken me up and told me to remember it. But after about fifteen minutes, not much seemed to be happening: and I was very sleepy. Back to bed.

The next day, and the day after that, the news sank in; and so did the meaning. Newspapers bore huge headlines, as large as for a royal coronation or wedding, or the assassination of a foreign president: and the pictures that accompanied the headlines made it clear that something epochal had happened, the significance of which—I was four. (Nearly five.) Significance was to come later, gradually sinking in. I was, of course, space-mad for six months, like all my peers. I knew that when I grew up I was going to be an astronaut! There were collectors cards, and colouring books, and all the ephemera of childhood overrun by the Apollo brand. I memorized all the facts and figures I could find, understanding very little. I watched the TV news in 1970 as Apollo 13 ran into trouble, with a five-year-old’s understanding; I watched the final take-off of the Apollo 17 LM ascent stage on that same black and which TV in 1972 as an eight-year-old, still unable to quite comprehend that the program was over. Then it began to sink in—that I probably wasn’t going to grow up to be an astronaut, after all.

They’d taken the moon away from me.


Charles Stross is a British science fiction, fantasy, and horror author. His work has earned over a dozen award nominations, and his most recent novel, Saturn’s Children, is up for this year’s Best Novel Hugo.

This article is part of Moon Landing Day: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Douglas Miller
1. demiller
Stross and I are almost exactly the same age (perhaps a few weeks difference). What he's written here is very much like my experience, except that I definitely remember watching.

The end of the Apollo program was heart-wrenching to this 8 year-old; something I just couldn't understand.

Cheers to all on this 40th anniversary of one of the most significant things we've done as a species.
Marissa Lingen
2. Mris
In 1972 it was sinking in that you weren't going.

I was born in 1978.

And there's David Weber upthread from you talking about how kids these days just don't have a sense of wonder about something that was over and done before we were born. We don't *want* kids these days to have a sense of wonder about the moon, any more than we want kids to have a sense of wonder about Oregon. (Appreciate its unique beauties, but do not run around going, "Oregon! OMG we're in OREGON! Can you believe we have people! Living! In OREGON?") We want kids these days to say, "That was a really great achievement *back then*, but what's the *next* cool thing out there?" Appreciation and wonder are not the same thing.
Eddie Cochrane
3. cobrabay
My memories are very similar to Charlie's. I was 8 years old and watching it on TV in the UK. My parents allowed me to stay up late to watch the coverage of the landing and I can remember being woken up by my father in the wee small hours to watch the first steps.
My 9th birthday was only a few weeks after, I was given a LEM plastic model kit, a lunar globe and a copy of "Islands in the Sky" by Arthur C. Clarke. I still have the book, my parents still have the globe, but the LEM, being fragile, did not survive the 70's.
Nicholas Waller
4. Nicholas Waller
I was 11 and was fairly well up on what was going on, having bought a copy of Reginald Turnill's anticipatory large booklet Moonslaught, which profiled the mission, the people involved and the road there, and I plagiarised it for a geography project at school. (It must have been published around April 1969 as it had a pic of the LM from Apollo 9 on the cover, but nothing from Apollo 10).

I remember being woken to see the moonwalk at some godawful hour in the morning. To my shame, I didn't stay awake to see the astros getting back inside the LM. I don't think I have ever seen that, btw. My father - rather unnecessarily, of course - filmed the TV with his 16mm Bolex, and my little brother (aged 9) made us all look up at the real moon.

Later that morning I came down to find my older brother, who had a night holiday job in a bakery, watching re-reruns on the BBC.

I don't specifically remember launch or splashdown, though I know we would have been watching them. I do remember driving back from the beach (near Brean Down; I'm standing in trunks in a pic taken that very day) in the afternoon to see the splashdown, and being briefly caught behind a herd of cows when one of them starting pissing in the road, and someone shouting out "Splashdown!".
Elizabeth Coleman
5. elizabethcoleman
I've been reading these memories in posting order, and so far, yours is the only one that makes me want to cry, maybe because I was born ten years too late, and I wish these memories, hazy and loving as they are, could have been mine.
David Lev
6. davidlev
I dunno about you, but I ALWAYS have a sense of wonder about living in Oregon :-)

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