It was exactly 50 years ago today that the world reached a watershed moment — when astronauts set foot on the moon and changed the way we view the universe forever.
On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission completed what some thought would never be possible when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely landed on the moon and planted the flag of the United States as the third member of the crew, Michael Collins, orbited above them in the command module Columbia.
For many, it was a moment they will never forget.
“At that time, I was in college in Indiana and we all stayed up to watch it,” Greene County Historian David Dorpfeld recalled. “It was after midnight and it was a thrilling thing. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t stay up to watch that.”
Dorpfeld said living through an event as monumental as the moon landing was something he will never forget.
“We sat on lawn chairs and gazed up at the moon and we were just in awe thinking someone was landing on the moon,” Dorpfeld said. “It was an incredible event. It was unbelievable. Everybody was on the lawn looking up at the moon and dashed into the house to watch on TV when they actually touched down.”
Hudson Mayor Rick Rector remembers watching the astronauts and being in awe.
“I was a high school student attending a summer program at Illinois State University and I was glued to the television for one of the most fascinating aspects of my young life. I still consider it a milestone in our history,” Rector said.
The event drew the attention of people across the globe. Around 600 million people — a fifth of the world’s population — saw Armstrong set foot on the moon, a viewership record that stood until Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981.
All three major American broadcast networks — CBS, NBC and ABC — covered the Apollo 11 mission, and in the United States, 94% of people watching television were tuned in to the event. People who did not own TV sets or found themselves away from home kept up with the coverage in bars, town squares and department stores, said David Meerman Scott, co-author of the 2014 book, “Marketing the Moon.”
Tim Broder, of Freehold, remembers attending the wedding of his future sister-in-law and “the entire wedding reception was in the bar watching Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon,” Broder recalled.
At the time, he was in the U.S. Navy.
“We all never felt so proud of being Americans as at that moment,” Broder said. “I was never so proud to be wearing the uniform of the Navy SeeBee than at that moment, already knowing I was destined for Vietnam, for which I volunteered. It was one of the many moments that I could not have been more proud to be wearing a uniform and so proud of the United States of America than when Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface.”
Sylvia Hasenkopf, president of the Cairo Historical Society, said the success of the moon landing is an illustration of what people can achieve when they put their minds to it.
“Historically, it is something that has shown that when people were presented with a challenge, we were up to meeting that challenge,” Hasenkopf said. “I heard the scientists at NASA were horrified when JFK said he wanted Americans to be on the moon in 10 years’ time. They had to put on their thinking hats and came up with a solution. It shows how new technology is created and how we move forward as a society — facing challenges that seem insurmountable, and yet man is creative and works as a team, and that is how we move forward.”
Richard Bergen, of Hudson, said living through such a monumental achievement is something he will never forget.
“I remember watching Neil Armstrong and thinking, if we can do this, we can do anything,” Bergen said.
NASA landed astronauts on the moon six times from 1969 to 1972, but interest had waned by the time the second team of astronauts stepped onto the lunar surface. However, there are signs that enthusiasm is building again. In 2017, a bidder paid $1.8 million for a sack of lunar dust filled by Armstrong. Last month, a signed photograph of the first man on the moon sold for $52,247.
The New York Times News Service contributed to this report.