50 Years ago…

Yes, I’m old… I was sitting in a bar in Rome on the Via Veneto when this happened.

We had hijacked a man and his daughter off the street to translate the Italian TV for us, and they sat there for four or five hours translating for us. I think we gave him something like $200-300 for translating.

The other thing I remember is walking back to the pensione we were staying at early that morning was that every store that had a TV had it in the front window, and we probably saw a thousand people crowding around them.

I picked this paper up July 21, 1969, and somehow have held on to it.

Rome Paper Moon Landing

And no, I didn’t draw the KEDS on the sole of the boot… sigh…

The takeaway for the kids out there is that this was done WITHOUT computers. Slipsticks, elegant math, and skull sweat made it all work.

Sadly, now 50 years later, we can’t get back there, have lost our space capability, and NASA has to fight tooth and nail for maintenance funding… Sigh


50 Years ago… — 35 Comments

  1. Exciting times. Young’uns just don’t get it.

    done WITHOUT computers
    “But, Gramps, life isn’t possible without computers!”

    I was recently rummaging around in storage and chanced upon my six-inch “learner” slide rule. My immediate thought was “My gawd, we went to the friggin’ moon using these. We went to the moon with only 2 or 3 decimal points of accuracy. Wow.”

    It’s sitting on the desk next to me now. I should learn how to do more with it someday…

  2. Grissom AFB, last year of the B58. I was a Bomb/Nav Tech (computer and radar) Didn’t get to see it live, only in news.

  3. Not as old as you are NFO but I do remember laying on floor watching it on our little black and white with my father. I do remember him making a remark about Neil Armstrong’s first words being pretentious. My father being a religious man thought this was very similar to man making the Tower of Babel. I just thought it was so cool.

  4. They did have computers, very rudimentary ones. The “1201” and “1202” alarms you hear discussed during descent were computer alarms. In Gene Krantz’s book “Failure Is Not An Option,” he talks about how those alarms caused Mission Control to fail their last simulated landing exercise.

  5. We were out driving around the back roads, and had stopped at a city park in Cuba, Missouri. I walked across the road into a small diner & saw Armstrong’s step on a black & white TV above the entrance. Neither of my parents saw, nor did they seem particularly interested when I went back and told them about it. I was 14 and head swimming with possibilities, then.

  6. Mom and Dad Red were working at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. One of the older kids in the ward had been given a tiny black-and-white TV, and everyone who could crowded around it and watched.

    Mom and Dad Red were in Greece for the Columbia launch and landing, and everyone stopped a wedding party and crowded into the bar to watch the landing. Once the Greeks learned that two Americans were in the crowd, oh lordy, the party REALLY kicked off. The bride and her mother were… livid.

  7. I am told I saw it/watched, Pa making sure of it and (trying) to explain to me. Alas, I have NO memory of such. The earliest space mission memories I have myself are of Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz.

    But I still find myself looking up at the moon at times and marveling that when I was *VERY* young, there were people up there. And now? Well, it’s disappointing, it is. One would have expected that at least we’d have a space station with an
    engine (a BIG one!) and venture into higher-earth orbits just to check things out once in a while.

  8. Hey Old NFO;

    But you do know that Obungler made NASA an muslim outreach service. I don’t know if the mission has changed. I do know that when I walked around in the Kennedy space center in Florida back in 2015 and blogged about it, I felt anger that we as a country let out legacy slide for political expediency. We no longer had the will, we have had several generations of freeloaders at this point and all the politicians want to do is give them free stuff so they can stay in power. I hope we as a nation goes for the brass ring again.

    • Bob, while that is true, it is also true that NASA turned the wrong corner then doubled down in expenditures to pursue a space truck. Someone with a lot of pull made the decision that instead of reaching for outer exploration they should instead throw their heft towards low orbit. I feel fairly confident that Soyuz and a space race had something to do with that about face. Imagine being superior but entering a race with an inferior. I was so disappointed.

      Now they have to relearn how to launch a Saturn V sized rocket. It’s like that Clint Eastwood movie, Space Cowboys, was prescient.

      It is good to see the perspective from other countries as gotten by ONFO in Rome. Apollo XI was for all people.

      • Yeah, a space truck that had to basically be rebuilt every time it flew.

        We would have been better with a crew-only and payload-only system.

        Funny, the guys who built the Apollo capsule figured out how to make it about 75-80% renewable, and then Nixon, thanks to LBJ’s heavy spending hand, cut the program. The prime contractors for the 1st stage of the Saturn were also working on ways to recover/recycle pieces parts.

        And we could have had NERVA (nuclear tea-kettle ships.) Which NASA is now rethinking about restarting.


  9. I remember watching the event as a 14 year old and thinking it was amazing. We dared reach way out of our comfort zone back then.

    Nowadays, things are just not as ambitious nor as interesting. Our space program is a delivery service and little else.

    The need of the 60’s was to outdo the Russians. We have nothing that compelling these days other than the muslim outreach apparently. Not sure how a hijab will get us to the moon again……

  10. We were working mid shift ASA radio intercept at Herzo Base, West Germany and tuned in Armed Forces Radio, it was broadcast through the whole Ops Center and what a night. The commie countries were also listening to the landing because the went quiet was the first steps were taken and then a bit later they were more active than usual. The whole damn world loved the men on the moon at that time.

  11. Was smashing bags for Braniff at the time. We watched it on a tiny black/white TV. Ground crew and a flight crew all jammed into a small room at Denver’s Stapleton.

  12. Indeed, they had Computers. They had more computers in one place than anyone had ever seen before…and those computers probably had LESS computing power than your p[hone does.

    Still, the idea that Computers started with the integrated circuit is false. My maternal Uncle helped design the Computers systems for Cape Canaveral (as it was then called), using Naval Department computers in Washington DC. At night, when they were on (because shut-down and start-up were both major operations), but largely idle.

    Hell, the Jacquard loom – a device that used punch cards to program a loom to weave complex patterns – dates to 1804. In 1839, such a loom was programmed to produce a complex portrait of Jacquard, using 24,000 punch cards.

    None of which takes away from the achievement of the moon landing. I just wish that the public had reacted to the pests who called the exploration of Space a ‘waste’ with a series of lynchings.

    • It had been said the computing power for Apollo was less than an Apple II computer.

      Do you remember the ‘Ricketts not Rockets’ protests? Because blacks have a higher incidence for that disease and because apparently people though money was leaving the earth therefore no money for medicine research. The Apollo program was racist. /sarcasm

  13. I watched it with my grandmother — a sweet little old southern gal who’s dad had fought in the War Between the States and grew up with only horses and mules and homespun. A deeply religious woman (my grandfather was a circuit riding preacherman). Such a contrast…

    And yes, slide rules (I still have mine)… but don’t forget adding machines (I had status — I had one which would do square roots. Eventually. Time to go to the gedunk for joe. And seven place log tables.

  14. All- Thanks for the comments, amazing how well some of us ‘remember’ that day. The infamous 1202 error was a load shed of radar data, and the computer DID restart! I still have my slide rule, and I wonder how many have ever heard of ‘rope’ memory… 🙂

    Posted from my iPhone.

  15. I had just graduated high school. I was a long time space geek so I watched Walter Cronkite’s (a fellow space geek) coverage from launch to recovery. The grainy, black and white image of “one small step…” from our home TV is burned into my memory. As an aside, my dad had a (very) small part in achieving that goal having worked for couple of contractors supporting making the Saturn V first stage. I felt enormous pride both due to being an American, and our family’s small contribution.

  16. Going to a neighbor’s house to watch the launches on their console color TV. Watching the landings at home because we only had a black & white tv, but that was okay because no color video.

    And then the NASA newsreels before the movies on the base (Vandenberg AFB at the time.}

    Those were neat days.

    Dad got an LEM tie-pin from Grumman for his work on the program, along with some coins and plaques. He worked with the range tracking ships and other things of which I still do not know about and need to pester the Air Force about yet again.

  17. I am okay with private enterprise taking over and letting NASA take a backseat. A lot of “kids” I know from Missouri S&T, plus other engineering schools are taking up the mantle and going to work for SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the other private space companies. I know the institutional knowledge needs to be replaced, and we will get it back. Heck maybe this Artemis mission will get some legs.

  18. Good to hear from someone else who remembers seeing the moon landing as an adult. Most people I know now think of it as something in a history book. (Didn’t get to see it that July, I had to wait until a movie newsreel made it to East Africa; it lost nothing from the waiting and the anticipation.)

  19. If things I have read recently are accurate, the US was doing next-to-nothing with the missile tech and technicians looted from Nazi Germany. It took Werner von Braun appearing on Walt Disney to get things moving.
    I was four years old in 1957, When Nikita Khrushchev boasted that America sleeps under a Soviet moon. Four-year-old boys are literal-minded, and I was terrified of the moon for a long time after that. I have dim, dim memories of my mother comforting me by pointing to the full moon and assuring me that it was just a big ball of rock. It was whistling through the graveyard, for me, though.
    I remember seeing “Alas, Babylon” on TV, and having nightmares about commies coming down the hall to get my baby sister.
    I also remember riding through those unending military convoys through the southern states, during ONE of the crisis points. Don’t recall if it was Berlin, or Cuba, but something caused everything to be loaded up and driven to Florida. It was LONG before we had Interstate Highways.
    And fallout shelters.I remember the duck and cover drills we did in elementary school, and the day we had an evacuation drill, and all walked home, accompanied by teachers, as a prep for a time when the buses couldn’t get us.

    A lasting effect of that was the Army changing the readiness status reports on vehicles, to a “green/yellow/red” status that was in effect when I was in the Army 1972-75. Evidently, someone was disturbed by the number of vehicles that broke down by the side of the road. Two lanes, remember?

    I don’t know how much of that was based on real threats, and how much of it was politicians and defense contractors using terror to gain budgets and buy influence. I DO know that when I was stationed in Stuttgart in 1973, the primary reason I was there was to clog up the treads of the Russian tanks when they rolled through the Fulda Gap, long enough for Reforger to get under way.

    So, yeah, I’m a huge fan of the Saturn V, along with late lamented SAC, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, and everything else (including the still relatively easy availability of small arms and ammo) that made it a Bad Idea for another nation-state to wipe us out or invade. And from that perspective, got to say it doesn’t appear to me that any of that money was wasted.

    Because my grandkids ain’t sleeping tonight under a Soviet moon.

    • > Khrushchev boasted that America sleeps under a Soviet moon

      That’s why I still think there was some kind of behind-the-scenes deal that kept Moonbase or the Wheel from being built.

      Yeah, first moon landing, big deal *here*, but the Soviets already had “first satellite”, “first man in space” and “first probe to another planet” (Venus) and were still milking the PR from those.

      But Sputnik and Apollo were ephemeral; they had their days in the news cycle, and then they were stale, and then part of history. But with Moonbase or the Wheel, any time someone looked up and saw the moon or the Wheel, there would be America, looking down…

      You want propaganda? Buddy, it doesn’t get any better than that.

      Instead… a crapulent shuttle project, some robot probes, and a vast sucking money pit of a bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish much. Yes, they did launch the Voyagers and some Mars probes, that’s not much considering it’s thirty years past when they were saying they’d have the first manned *Mars* base…

  20. Plenty was happening with the German scientists and the captured and reverse-engineered equipment, but quietly in the desert southwest and elsewhere. See: Vanguard.
    The NKVD/KGB was watching and had agents providing data and microfilm for all the liquid fuel work. Khrushchev had a crash project working on Sputnik. Their launch was successful when Vanguard had its last failure; that’s when the Soviet program went public with the propaganda stunt.

    BTW, dig farther back in the files to see how much of Dr. Goddard’s original liquid fuel rocket data and patents got “borrowed” by the Third Reich. Oops.

    Never doubt the slide rule or those who had the job description of computer. I had co-workers who were housed in ENIAC’s permanent home. Its first post-W II project was to verify Fermi’s back of 3ncelope calculation from 1944, verifying that Trinity would not ignite the atmosphere.

    • Feynman talked about the how the Manhattan Project got a shiny new programmable computer during the war. The clerks with the adding machines were running problem sets optimized for them by some of the greatest living mathematicians. The computer guys *should* have been able to render them irrelevant. In practice, the clerks were usually able to solve any given problem faster than the computer geeks.

      There was no software, no operating system, not even a programming language. The data was hand-keyed into the computers, just like with the calculators, and the software was written in machine code, moving data in and out of registers. It took a lot of time… and, as Feynman pointed out, the geeks required constant supervision, or else they’d spend all their time playing with the computer instead of solving problems.

  21. All- Thanks for the comments and the perspectives! Pat- That was Cuban Missile Crisis in 62.

    Posted from my iPhone.

    • Long (but not AS LONG) ago, high school teacher said, “Quiz tomorrow – NO calculators!” And some wiseguy (who wasn’t me, really!) piped up, “What about slide rules?” “Slide rules are allowed.” came the reply, figuring who the heck even HAD them, let alone knew how to use such?

      But there still guides in the library, and Pa (for many) still had an slipstick or two around… thus the next day about a third of the class had slide rules – and knew how to use them!

      • Yeah, I still have the professional Post slide rule I got for High School graduation. Used a cheap plastic one in High School for Chemistry and Physics. Went through the transition from a “Guessin’ Stick” to a calculator in college and have forgot a lot of of the really neat tricks I’d learned to make a slide rule do roots and exponentials.

      • In high school math, I recall there being log tables published in the back of some of the texts.
        As recently as 1977 & 1978, my experimental psych and statistics texts had tables of random numbers published in the back. During the days when BASIC was included with operating systems in personal computers, there was a pseudo-random number generator function included named RND(), where the parenthesis contained, I believe, some number between 0 and 1, but it might have been -32767 to +32767. You could introduce a more random factor by adding a function that multiplied the number in the parenthesis by the last two digits of the time stamp when the function was called.
        That wouldn’t get you to the Moon, but it let you play Star Trek, and get different damages from photon torpedoes.

  22. I watched on the tv in the barracks day room at Clark AFB, don’t remember if it was live or not.