Memories of the moon landing

posted: June 1, 2019

tl;dr: I think I remember the Apollo 11 moon landing, but memory is a fuzzy thing...

I was a few days shy of my fifth birthday when the Apollo 11 mission landed the first two men on the moon, on July 20-21, 1969. Most of the people alive today on Earth were born after the final Apollo mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972, so they have no memory of humankind’s greatest voyage to date. I think I have memories of watching the Apollo 11 landing and moonwalk on television, but I am not sure.

In the far recesses of my mind I can picture the family room of my childhood house, the location of our family’s small (by today’s standards - it was probably 14 inches diagonally) black-and-white cathode-ray-tube General Electric television. I can recall all four of us gathered together to watch the footage beamed back to Earth from the moon. I remember the grainy black-and-white images. I can’t recall the television narrator (it was probably Walter Cronkite) or any specific words. Neil Armstrong’s famous statement upon setting foot on the moon did not lodge in my memory at the time. I do remember that a lot of the words from the astronauts and mission control were matter-of-fact statements about mission status, such as a countdown of the distance of the lunar lander above the moon’s surface.

This GIF is of similar picture quality to the TV images in my mind

But...I’m not sure if what I am recalling now is the actual event itself, from that moment in time, or something else. Overall I have very few memories from my preschool days, or even my early school years. I may be remembering the first moon landing, or I may be remembering one or more of the subsequent moon landings. While the first was of course the most impactful of all, the others were well-publicized, too, and were carried on live television by the big three networks’ (NBC, CBS, and upstart ABC) news divisions. What I may be remembering is a collage of images from multiple moon landings.

The footage of the first landing has also been rebroadcast many times over the years, and will be rebroadcast again as we approach the 50 year anniversary. I’m sure that my memory of Neil Armstrong’s famous words comes from rebroadcasts rather than that original utterance that I may have heard when I was four years old. Likewise, the mental picture in my mind of the detailed pictures from the moon’s surface also comes from more recent exposure to those images.

As for the setting of my family gathered around the television in the family room: that was a very common scene for us for years thereafter, as that is where we watched television. My dad was a somewhat prolific Super 8 home movie maker, and I’ve also seen footage of the family room with the television on. So I may also be folding that into my memory of the Apollo 11 landing and moonwalk.

In short, while I think I remember watching the Apollo 11 landing and moonwalk live on television with my family, I am far from sure about that. In my experience human memory is a somewhat fuzzy, fungible thing. For more distant memories, I am not sure if I am recalling the actual event, some other similar event, a collage of related events, a story I’ve been told about the event or its particular details, a recording of the event, or even a dream. So I always take other people’s distant memories with a grain of salt.

p.s. I discussed this with my parents. They claimed that, because the first moonwalk happened late at night on the East coast, I was fast asleep in bed, and they watched it on TV with a relative visiting from out-of-town. Given that I was just four years old at the time, I trust their recollection of this evening more than my own.

Related post: Visiting the USA’s space port