I was the weird kid, I think. Just finishing off my freshman year in high school that summer in 1969, I was definitely the odd kid out. I’d changed schools twice in the last two years, and had few friends in the new school. Instead, I busied myself with rockets, and lived my life in science fiction. The library only allowed kids to take out a maximum of seven books, so every week my mother and I would go the to the library and I’d bring back my pile and search the card catalog for science fiction, making a new pile of seven to take home. I had decided to decorate my room by painting it black, and every day I would scissors out from the newspapers and magazines all the stories about space or rockets or the Apollo program, and taped them to my walls. I lived surrounded by rockets.
I was taking some summer courses at the high school that summer, photography (because it sounded like fun), and typing (because my handwriting was atrocious). I still didn’t really have any new friends yet at high school, although there were a handful of kids I knew slightly, from standing around waiting for the bus.
July was warm, the weather nice. I launched my model Saturn-V to celebrate the Apollo 11, a rocket five hundred times taller, launching a thousand miles away.
When the day for the moon landing came, I stayed up, of course, glued to the television, switching channels back and forth from Jules Bergman to Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra. The schedule for the astronauts called for Neil and Buzz to go to sleep after the long day spent preparing the lunar module and flying the harrowing descent to the surface, so they could begin their moon walk when they were well-rested. But they threw the schedule out the window, going for their walk on the surface without a night’s sleep first. I don’t blame them; I doubt I would have been able to fall asleep either. It played havoc with the people who believed the paper
schedule, and turned off their televisions, but I hadn’t planned to sleep. I didn’t turn off our television. The image, blurry and black and white, came out on the screen, Neil Armstrong upside down on the ladder of the Lunar module (the television stations had apparently been unprepared for the fact that the camera was stowed inverted). And they made their walk on the surface, a brief one, this time, saying their words that they knew everybody in the world would be listening to, and I didn’t think that everything had changed, but instead that the future was progressing on rails, the way it should, the way it had to. I knew about Vietnam, of course, and student protests (which shortly would shut down our high school with peace moratoriums and student strikes), and the Cold War. Soon enough everything would change. But at that moment everything seemed on track, all the problems of the world in abeyance.
Geoffrey A. Landis is a scientist, science fiction writer, and poet. He is the author of the hard-SF novel Mars Crossing and dozens of short stories. As a scientist, he works for the NASA John Glenn Research Center, where he does research on Mars missions and developing technology for future space missions. He was a member of the Rover team on the Mars Pathfinder mission and is a member of the science team on the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers mission.