One Giant Leap – Dawson & Associates Remembers

Aldrin salutes the U.S. Flag

Fifty years ago this Saturday, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The live broadcast of this historic event riveted the nation. To mark the 50th anniversary, we asked a few members of the Dawson team what they were doing when Armstrong took that step. Here are their recollections:

“I witnessed the event from a German Gasthaus (Restaurant). Each and every patron’s eyes were fixed on a black and white German TV awaiting to learn that “The Eagle had landed” safely upon the moon’s surface. I soon realized from everyone’s silent, focused attention followed by instantaneous cheers that it was not just an “American” event, it was a “human race” event being witnessed by all.”Brig. Gen. (Ret) Rick Capka, a West Point Cadet on summer training near Wildflecken, Federal Republic of Germany

“I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was in the field in the woods of Georgia with my Ranger class. They pulled us out of the field to watch on an old black and white TV. We were a bunch of tired and dirty troops, but we were thrilled to see those first steps in outer space. And we were proud Americans.”Bill Hartwig, a young Field Artillery officer training at the Army’s elite Ranger School prior to service in Vietnam

“I was in the Engineer Officer Basic Course at Ft Belvoir and Lynda and I were living in a one bedroom semi-furnished apartment in Arlington. We were sitting on our vinyl sofa watching our black and white, leased TV as the moon landing unfolded. We walked outside as President Nixon addressed the nation and looked up at the moon holding hands. I’m still holding her hand.”Lt. Gen. (Ret) Bob Flowers, a new 2nd Lieutenant about to embark upon a 35-year career that would culminate with service as the Army’s 50th Chief of Engineers

“As a New Cadet at West Point, they marched us all in to the large Cadet auditorium and had us watch the moon landing live on the big screen. It was a very special treat, and one that I will never forget. We were all very exhausted from our first 3 weeks of training, and there were more than a few who dozed through the experience. Their loss for sure!”Maj. Gen. (Ret) Don Riley, an incoming college freshman, or plebe, at the U.S. Military Academy

The Hatch children and 2 friends watch the Moon landing.

“My memories of the moon landing are quite vivid. I had just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam where I had commanded the 326th Engineer Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. I returned directly to Canada where my family was for the summer. We were staying at our rustic cottage on an island in Lake Nipissing 200 miles north of Toronto, which we had bought in 1967. We had no electricity, no running water and no telephone. Propane, kerosene, stove oil and gasoline were our energy sources. We did however have a small black and white TV that was powered by a 12 volt car battery. We watched the landing live and a replay the next day. It was an exciting event for all of us. My children were 9, 7 and 4. Here is a picture of the kids and two of their friends watching the replay.”Lt. Gen. (Ret) Hank Hatch, future 47th Chief of Engineers sharing precious time with family upon his return from Vietnam

“My recollection of Apollo 11 Moon Landing is a most personal one.  It is a combination of great pride in my small part of the mission and a sense of regret that I was not physically present at that moment in community with the people with whom I had worked.  As a woman of that era, I had to choose whether to marry Leonard and move with him to Washington DC where he was stationed – or remain in my position as part of the Apollo Manned Space Flight Program.”

“In 1967 fresh out of a stint at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I took a position working for a consulting company, Computer Usage Corporation (CUC), as a contractor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Instrumentation Laboratory (now known as the Draper Lab). Within two weeks of my arrival, I became the head of the Erasable Memory Control Section for the Mission Program Integration Group of the Apollo Guidance Computer Programming Division, the group that programmed the Apollo Guidance Computer for the eventual landing of the LEM spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

“At the time, there was a limited amount of erasable memory – what today we call RAM (random access memory) – which needed to be allocated using primitive timesharing techniques. My job required understanding the various phases of the mission and extensive interface with a wide variety of staff, many of who were also contractors with specific skills (programmers, electrical and system engineers).

“I largely was chosen for the job because I had the requisite security clearance necessary to work on the Mission thanks to a prior summer job as an Immigration Inspector at Logan Airport – the first and only female inspector at the time (I was provided with a badge but had to improvise and supply my own uniform!).

“Most of the programming staff members were MIT graduates and Electrical Engineers, since computer science knowledge was at that time an extension of engineering – and almost exclusively male. One of the few women with whom I worked was Margaret Hamilton who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2016 for her pivotal role in the mission.

“At the time, I had no programming skills and was clearly overwhelmed by the jargon and the tasks at hand. The first day I was told that ‘assembly’ was held once a day. My only experience with Assembly was High School where the entire student body came together periodically in the school auditorium for purposes of performance, celebration or communication regarding new rules and proper school etiquette. I soon learned that ‘assembly’ at the Lab meant the compilation of everyone’s latest computer code into a format that could be tested through simulation on the on-site IBM computers.

“Needless to say in a short time I became an integral part of the team and was promised that I would that I would be present at Cape Canaveral for the launch. Leonard, however, proposed and I accepted – and we celebrated 51 years of marriage this past March.

“Working on Apollo was not only challenging and fulfilling but also a lot of fun. There was a actual mock up of the lunar module on site that we visited whenever we wished. In fact, our Christmas party was held around our beloved LEM module. Most of us were quite young and in some sense, we did not appreciate the historic and national significance of our work – and the honor bestowed upon us as part of one of our nation’s greatest achievements.”

Susan Miller, a section leader in the group responsible for writing the Apollo Guidance Computer code for the moon landing and wife of Dawson colleague Len Miller  (Read the rest of the fascinating story here.)

“I spent the summer of 1969 touring Europe on a Eurail Pass and witnessed the Lunar Landing and Neil Armstrong’s “…giant leap for mankind” in a youth hostel in Oslo, Norway along with 30 or 40 other young travelers. I still remember the small black and white TV that we were watching and the cheers when the lander touched down and Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon.”John Burns, a newly minted graduate of the University of Minnesota

Mission Control celebrates Apollo 11

“On July 20, 1969, I was assigned to the Engineer Branch, Office of Personnel Operations, located in WW2 barracks (Tempo A) adjacent to Fort McNair. We lived in Oxon Hill, MD and decided to invite some of our colleagues and their families to witness the moon landing with us. After the requisite food and beverage experience, we settled down near our standard black and white TV (19″), with the “rabbit ears” properly directed, to witness the event. Son Calvin (7) and dog Charlie (small poodle) were on the floor directly in front of the TV intently focused. Naturally, the viewing space was crowded as there were 6 adults trying to watch. All were excited and intent of seeing all of the landing activity. When the Eagle landed the cheers erupted. All had seen the event, except Calvin and Charlie who were fast asleep, a photo op that I captured so that Calvin could always prove he, at least, saw part of the event.”Maj. Gen. (Ret) Thomas Sands, a young Army officer intent on capturing the moment for family folklore

I watched the moon landing on a TV in the O’ Club in Sasebo, Japan!Hon. Martin Lancaster, a future Member of Congress on duty as a Navy JAG officer overseas

“That evening my Dad gathered his four sons on the stairway landing of our home. He pointed out the window toward the moon and said there were men walking up there right now. With emotion rarely displayed, Dad told us we would never forget this night. He was right.”Maj. Gen. (Ret) Rick Stevens, a 9-year old growing up in Vincennes, Indiana

“We watched the landing at my parents’ house with my parents and sister. It was a truly memorable moment squinting on the grainy TV screen as Neil Armstrong navigated the Eagle to a perfect landing even though he used more fuel than had been expected. “Houston, The Eagle has landed” were the words we were all waiting for. We stayed up all evening watching the pictures of Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin walk on the surface of the moon.”Rob Vining, at home with his wife of 9 months having just completed Navy basic training

“I was at home in Richmond watching with my younger brother very late at night, in black and white. Our parents slept thru it. They had to work the next day!Maj. Gen. (Ret) “Bo” Temple, a young boy who proudly stayed awake through the whole thing without coffee

“I was somewhere in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean aboard the USS Luce (DLG-7). Our communications with the rest of the world was spotty. I learned about the moon landing after the fact.”Estus Whitfield, on duty at sea with the US Navy defending freedom on Earth

“I remember vividly where I was when watching the moon walk. I was on the couch with my girlfriend at her parents’ house during our 30-day annual summer leave from West Point. Not sure if it was the moon walk or the girlfriend that makes the memory so vivid, but I do know that the girlfriend and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next June, not long after the moon walk anniversary!”Dr. Jon Deason, a West Point Cadet star struck in more ways than one

“I was eight years old then, and, if memory serves, I was with my mom and sister and I was lying on the floor of our apartment living room in Columbus, Ohio, on a blue shag rug in front of a box fan with a wet wash cloth on my forehead eating crunchy, cold, Iceberg lettuce because it was an extremely warm evening.”Janine Wilson, just a kid and one of the some 125 million viewers in the United States who watched the Moon walk

Dawson & Associates is pleased to offer this blog as a forum for our colleagues to comment on timely issues. These commentaries reflect the diverse backgrounds and opinions of our team and do not necessarily reflect the views of our company or others affiliated with it.