Where were you on July 20, 1969?

July 19, 2009

JackGanssle-July 19, 2009

The media is abuzz with nostalgia about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing.

Where were you on that fateful day?

Most Americans were not even gleams in their parents' eyes. According to the CIA World Factbook, the median age in the USA is currently 36.7 years. More than half of us weren't born. But I suspect that, in this country at least, the median age of engineers tends towards the gray side. Which is a darn shame, but that's a different topic.

I was 16 at the time, and remember watching the descent on our black and white TV. There wasn't much to see as no live TV came back from the moon till after the landing. But America's most trusted man conveyed the excitement felt by all. That hard-bitten newsman had tears in his eyes, as did many other fellow Earthlings. And now that we were truly a spacefaring race, "Earthlings" had a new and poignant meaning. Indeed, just a month later Joni Mitchell sang "we are stardust" at Woodstock. We are made of the ingredients of space and had returned to our origins.

For the first time in history, two men had landed on another planetoid. But we all felt like it was a joint accomplishment. The nation had landed; the astronauts really did make a giant leap "for mankind." (We were much less sensitive to gender biases in those days.)

Late that night (on the US East Coast) Armstrong and Aldrin waltzed out onto the lunar surface. Very grainy live video showed their descent down the ladder, a ladder that my uncle, a Grumman employee, had taken to his home many months before while on his way to a vendor.

My family had other ties to Apollo. In the late 50s, long before spaceflight was anything but the stuff of science fiction, my dad was busted for shoveling sand from Jones Beach into the back of his station wagon. He, too, worked at Grumman at the time, and the cop just didn't buy his wild story of collecting sand for "lunar landing studies."

Later he did initial design work on the lunar module and parts of the Saturn V. I had just secured a summer job as an electronics technician, and was working on Apollo ground support equipment for Goddard Space Flight Center, which comprised hundreds of RTL (resistor-transistor logic) ICs.

Those were indeed exiting times. For a short time Apollo unified a nation that was divided by war and generational hostility.

Do you remember Apollo 11's landing? What were you doing?

(I'm not normally a big fan of webinars, but check out the upcoming (July 27 at 1:00 ET) chance to hear from some early Apollo pioneers.)

(Editor's Note: The Embedded Poll this week is "What's your connection to Apollo 11?" To vote, go to the Embedded.com Home Page.)

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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