As the nation prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, many Space Coast residents feel a special connection to this historic event.
Some 650 million people followed the journey on their television sets as all the major U.S. networks and international broadcasters covered it.
Edward Chandler of Melbourne Beach was one of those millions. He was 46 years old at the time and he, along with a group of colleagues, went to a friend’s house to watch the landing.
“Of course, there was a lot of interest,” Chandler, now 96, said.
Interest, particularly because Chandler was an IBM test conductor with 20 engineers working under him who had worked on the Apollo missions.
“The engineers were experienced in the IBM instrument unit called the IU.” Chandler said. “The mission of the IU was to navigate the flight to the moon.”
Chandler worked at Kennedy Space Center from 1965 through the first six shuttle missions. And while he doesn’t get to the space center anymore, he keeps in touch with a couple of those engineers.
“We helped send a man to the moon,” he said.
Billy Payne was just 10 years old in July 1969.
“We had moved to Winter Haven a couple years earlier and on clear days you could see the launches from our house,” Payne said. “We made a day trip over to the coast for the launch of 11 and watched the liftoff from the 528 Causeway.”
He later watched the landing on TV with his mom, dad, brother and two sisters.
Inspired by these events, he applied to NASA right out of college and was writing a follow-up letter to NASA when he witnessed the Challenger blow up right outside his bedroom window.
His first job at Kennedy Space Center was working for Rockwell Space Systems, where he was a software engineer who designed and built a tracking system for shuttle tile and thermal protection proceeding.
Payne now lives in Satellite Beach and still works at Kennedy Space Center helping biologists organize and analyze their data.
And while he said it’s still a thrill to see launches up close – as the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 approaches – he can’t help but feel a little disappointment as well that we haven’t made moon travel more routine.
“It is inspiring but disappointing as well. Growing up I thought I might actually be able to work on the moon,” Payne said. “If you told me back then it would more than half a century before we went back, I would have thought you were crazy. Now I hope maybe my grandchildren might get that opportunity.”
Space Coast Celebrates
From an astronaut parade to a star-studded concert, the Space Coast has been celebrating Apollo 11 all month with a variety of events and activities across the county – and there’s more to come.
On July 19 at 11 a.m. the United States Postal Service will release two forever stamps to commemorate the anniversary with a collection called “1969: First Moon Landing.” A first-day-of-issue event will take place at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
On July 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will host a live, two-hour program called “NASA Giant Leaps: Past and Future” which will be broadcast nationwide in honor of the anniversary. In addition, the complex has a variety of new exhibits, including a sculpture of the first men on the moon, and a redesigned Apollo/Saturn V Center.
On July 20, the complex will host an all-day party called “One Giant Leap Celebration: Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50 Years Later.”
Also on July 20, the public is invited to meet some of the space workers who took part in Apollo 11. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. at the American Space Museum with a panel discussion. There will also be hands-on rocket activities for kids, science demonstrations and a toast at 4:18 p.m. – the same time as the moon landing.