Friday, July 20, is National Moon Day.
OK, it’s not a very official holiday. In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed July 20 that year to be National Moon Day to commemorate the second anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon. But there were no follow-up presidential proclamations. Nor have there been any congressional resolutions to recognize this day. Still, it might be fun to celebrate National Moon Day.
I was a rising high school sophomore that pleasant July evening in 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Many of us were a little puzzled about how Armstrong said that. It wasn’t until much later that we learned that he had meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” That would have made more sense, but no one really cared at the time. It was the first man on the moon! And, given the excitement of being that man, we can understand how Armstrong could have muffed what I’m sure was a well-rehearsed line.
That evening I watched most of the excursion on television. I frequently stepped outside the front door of the house to look at the moon, and marvel that as I was looking at the moon, there was an astronaut (Michael Collins) orbiting it, as well as two other astronauts walking on its surface.
The moon was just two days short of being first quarter phase, which is a good time to look at the moon. Therefore, I used my small telescope to look at the moon. Of course, I couldn’t see any of the spacecraft or the astronauts, but it was fun locating the general area on the moon where Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were that evening. I have fond memories of the event.
I also have memory of what the rest of my family did that evening. It’s difficult to realize that back then there was no satellite TV, and cable TV as we know it didn’t yet exist. There were only three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. And most markets had only three stations. If you had an antenna on top of your house, you could get stations from other nearby markets, but they represented the same three networks. Furthermore, all three networks preempted normal programming to carry important manned space missions, and the Apollo 11 certainly qualified as important. All three networks had been covering the story most of the day without interruption, so there was nothing else on TV. Unfortunately, other members of my family had long grown tired of what they viewed as endless coverage of such things. On this summer evening, everyone else in my household went to bed early, thus missing televised coverage of the first manned landing on the moon at nearly 11:00 p.m. EDT. It seems that they were in a snit because they couldn’t watch a rerun of Bonanza on TV (though Bonanza was still in production at the time and would be for four more years, during summer months NBC broadcast only reruns of episodes that had run earlier in the season).
What do I have planned for this year’s observance? Well, it just so happens that we have scheduled a Stargazer’s Night at Johnson Observatory here at the Creation Museum on Friday. We plan these to coincide with first quarter moon as much as possible. This month, first quarter moon will be Thursday. Therefore, if the sky is clear Friday night, we will spend a little more time than usual looking at the moon. I may even bring my little 40-mm refracting telescope that I used 49 years ago (yes, I still have it). The view through it isn’t as good as with the Questar telescope, but I’d love to share that little nostalgia with you. Oh, and we’ll use the Questar too.
A clear sky Friday evening calls for a little Cheerwine to celebrate!