The Apollo 11 landing was one of the first public events I remember. My family was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we had returned from a family camp in Michigan the day of the landing. It was a long day, but like the rest of the country we stayed up and parked our selves in front of our big old black and white TV.
This was a happy time for me personally, but the public events I remember were faintly ominous, almost to a one. I remember my mother talking anxiously to a neighbor in 1967, but only much later realized that the threat I didn’t quite understand at the time was the Detroit riots, which were taking place a few miles away, not an invasion of hippies. I also vaguely remember the fraught political campaign of 1968, though again without many of the details.
The 40th anniversary coverage has focused extensively on the artificiality of America’s race to put a man on the moon, its role in the Cold War, and the extent to which NASA seemed to peter out afterwards. What doesn’t seem to me to have been emphasized quite enough is just how important it was to bring the nation together at that moment. It was a scary time in many respects, and watching Neil Armstrong hop along on the moon seemed to put a bounce back in everyone’s steps.