Space Coast Cocoa Beach, FL, July 1969
The thermometer climbs quick and early. We traverse the sand, our arms filled with beach towels and buckets, shovels and suntan oil. My brother rents a surfboard at Ron Jon’s, while I wait in line for an ice cream. The sweet smell of Coppertone perfumes the air as the cars and campers inch along the hazy A1A.
This afternoon we leave the beach life and drive to the Cape. Clay and I climb in the “SIM”, press a lever, put our hands in the stiff gloves, and don the Lunar Module Pilot’s helmet. With their flight only four months away, Pete, Dick, and Dad are “in the SIM” most days.
We drive over to the tallest building in Florida, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Two giant cranes for lifting the rocket stages and the spacecraft modules, line the building. We ride the elevator up, up to the top of the Saturn V. Men dressed in white coats, white booties, white hats let us carefully look inside the Command Module, no climbing or touching here. Dad points to the seat where he will be strapped in for launch and splashdown.
Outside the VAB, we partially walk down the rocket Crawlerway. I can see Apollo 11 standing tall, waiting in the distance. A few days later, it roars away.
Nassau Bay, Houston, TX, November 1969
The squawk box chatter between Mission Control, Intrepid, and Yankee Clipper fills the living room air. A slumber party of blankets and pillows is spread out on the floor. The closest of friends and family remain, the Cernans, the Anders, the Schweickarts, our next door neighbors, Ann and Clay Fulcher who double-dated with Mom and Dad from their college days.
It is a school day and Mom wakes me up early. Lying in bed, the unlit hallway reflects the flickering pattern of TV images, faintly, I hear the transmission of Dad and Pete’s voices from the moon. In my nightgown, I walk toward the bright lights of the kitchen. My grandmother moves between the dining room and the living room, wiping tables, picking up glasses, throwing out paper plates. She places a percolator of coffee and a box of donuts on a portable table setup for the press in our garage.
The grown-ups have been awake all night, coffee cups have replaced wine glasses. I climb into Grandad’s lap. Mom sits close to the TV with Mr. Cernan by her side.
A warning tone sounds on Dad’s spacesuit. It is the only time during the mission that I have seen Mom worried. We listen to the comms between Intrepid and Houston. No voices are raised, no interruptions, calmly, step-by-step, together, they make changes to Dad’s suit control settings. A few minutes pass, the problem is solved.
In his bulky spacesuit, Dad bumped the LM hatch partially shut when he moved over to Pete’s side of the LM to take a photo. The change in the LM’s air pressure affected the operation of his suit. Fairly quickly Dad looked down and saw the hatch was closed, immediately, he re-opened it and the suit returned to normal.
115:47:55 Bean: Houston, how does the LM look? I’m getting ready to go out the front door.
115:48:42 Gibson: Al, Houston. The LM is looking good. You’re Go for egress.
115:49:08 Bean: Pete, here I come.
115:49:14 Conrad: No, no, no, no. Let me come. Dum dee dum dum dum. Got to run through this (small) crater. Here I come. Now, wait a minute. (Pause) Okay; I’m ready for you.
115:49:43 Bean: You might want to give me some directions, too.
115:49:45 Conrad: All right.
115:49:48 Bean: Bumping anything? (Pause)
115:49:52 Conrad: You’re coming straight out and the further you can bend over the better. All right; move to your right.
115:50:00 Conrad: That a boy. Down. (Pause) That’s it; get your knees down. That a boy. Good shape; good shape.
115:50:12 Bean: I’m pulling the hatch closed here.
115:50:15 Conrad: Don’t lock it. Okay, you’re right at the edge of the porch.
115:51:13 Bean: Pretty good; I’d better get my visor down though.
115:51:15 Conrad: Yes, sir. My, that Sun is bright. (Pause)
115:51:27 Bean: Boy, the LM looks nice on the outside.
115:51:59 Conrad: …turn around and give me a big smile. That a boy.
115:52:02 Conrad: You look great. Welcome aboard.
The living room erupts with applause and laughter. Everyone is hugging Mom. My grandfather has tears in his eyes. Smiling, watching the TV, we hold each other tight.
Dad is the 4th man to step on the moon. He does not make a memorable statement when his boot touches the lunar surface for the first time. That was not his role.
But here on earth at 18706 Point Lookout Dr., the family and friends who have been by his side for the last 6 years, celebrate with feelings of joy, pride, relief, and accomplishment that his (our) dream had been achieved.