A little thematic music.
How do you get to the moon?
Seriously: What carefully planned combination of angles, direction and propulsion is needed to get a manned space capsule from Merritt Island, Florida, to the surface of the earth’s only natural satellite?
That sounds like the sort of question that “Taxi”‘s Reverend Jim might have pondered.
But in July 1969, it was on a lot of people’s minds — including my grandfather’s — as three Americans prepared for a journey no one in history had ever taken.
I trust I do not have to explain to any of my readers what Apollo 11 was.
I have already written about my grandpa’s interest in the American space program … so it should not surprise anybody to know that he was actively tracking the first manned mission to the moon and writing its highlights on his calendar.
Of course, he was also making note of his own personal obligations as well. Frank Martin and Sons, mentioned on July 17, was a locally well-known men’s and boys’ clothing store on Stamford’s Main Street.
(According to at least one online profile, Boston Red Sox manager and Stamford native Bobby Valentine worked for a short time at Frank Martin and Sons. By Bobby V’s telling, he was fired at age 15 — circa 1965 or ’66 — which means he would not have been behind the counter to hand my grandpa his jacket and trousers. In July 1969, Valentine would have been two months away from the majors, 19 years old, and playing for the Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League. But I digress.)
We next join Apollo 11 in progress at the moment of its triumph:
I believe my grandfather’s photo collection includes some rough images, taken from his TV, of the Apollo 11 astronauts descending to the moon. I am sure he would have been among the many Americans who stayed up well into the morning of July 21 to watch coverage of the first moonwalk.
He would have had to get some sleep, though, because July 21 was a big day — a day involving a family visit.
I am not sure whether my folks — married almost exactly two years on July 21, 1969, and as yet childless — were coming down from Rochester, N.Y., to visit, or whether he was bound from Stamford to Rochester to see them.
His laborious listing of the six routes needed to get from one place to the other suggests he was doing the driving … because why would someone care so much about the details of a route he was not personally traveling?
But the order in which he lists them indicates my parents were doing the driving. (If you were traveling from western New York to Stamford, Route 90 would be your first major route and Route 287 would be your last.)
At any rate, my folks had only moved to the Rochester area two years before. So the route between Stamford and Rochester might still have captured my grandpa’s imagination as an exotic and unfamiliar thing in July of 1969, even if it was more familiar than the route being taken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
While we’re on the subject of directions, it was during this same period of mid-July days that U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy lost track of where he was going in a previously obscure area of Martha’s Vineyard, with fatal consequences for his passenger. There is no reference to Chappaquiddick Island on my grandpa’s calendar. The common understanding of history is that Apollo 11 dominated the nation’s attention in the short term, though Kennedy was already sharing headlines with Apollo 11 as early as July 21.
Apollo 11’s return home was just as risky a venture as its trip out. (While no one knew it at the time, President Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire had prepared a speech to be delivered to the nation in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin were irretrievably stranded on the moon. Thankfully, Nixon never had to give it.)
My grandpa, like Mission Control, stayed on watch until the very end.