I was ten years old in 1969, and while we lived in Arizona that year, I spent most of the summer staying with family friends in Portland, Oregon while my parents visited Spain. It was an adventure all around. Artists like my own parents, the Hibbards were just a little bit more unruly and bohemian; their house in the hills of northwest Portland was full of paintings and pottery, but they didn’t own anything so bourgeois as a television set. Which is how I came to be listening to the “Eagle has landed” moment on the radio, rather than watching the coverage on TV. The other thing I was doing at that exact moment was throwing up into a metal bowl, because while Buzz Aldrin was guiding the LEM to the moon, I was making my own hard landing on Earth. Specifically, I fell out of a tree and concussed myself.
None of which prevented the whole household, me included, from decamping immediately to the the home of Jenny Hibbard’s elderly parents on the slopes of Mount Hood, in order to watch the actual moon walk in real time. There’s a latter-day notion that artsy hippie types in the 1960s disdained the space program. Not in my experience they didn’t. We watched, transfixed with reverence, not even making rude remarks about President Nixon during his phone call to the astronauts. I later learned that my own parents had watched the whole thing surrounded by a crowd of equally amazed Spaniards, gazing at the television screens on display in the window of a home-furnishings store. I think much of the world spent that particular two hours with its mouth hanging open.
Years later, I wound up acquiring and publishing a novel, The Return, written by Buzz Aldrin and the SF writer John Barnes. In connection with this, Barnes’s agent Ashley Grayson and I wound up having lunch with Aldrin in a poolside restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. Now, as it happens, Buzz Aldrin is a charming and fascinating man. Not only is he one of the smartest people ever to serve in the astronaut corps, he also has a sense of humor about himself that is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that when you emerge from the elevator to his penthouse apartment, the first thing you see is an illuminated glass case displaying a moon rock…and a Buzz Lightyear doll.
But what I best remember about that lunch is that when we got onto the subject of the “Aldrin Cycler,” his proposed trajectory for a manned Earth-Mars mission, he began to demonstrate the relative positions of Earth, Mars, the spacecraft, and the sun by vigorously moving various implements of tableware around. At that exact moment I thought to myself (but did not say), “The grizzled old spaceman is now explaining the ballistics of space travel by using the tablecloth and the silverware. I am in a Heinlein juvenile, somewhere in the vicinity of Starman Jones or Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and my life is now complete.”
Life has actually gone on after that moment of sheer wonder, but it still stands out as one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy, managing Tor Books’ science fiction and fantasy line. He has won the Hugo and World Fantasy awards for his editorial work. In addition to editing, he is also a musician, blogger, and writing teacher. He is the fiction editor of Tor.com.