On July 20, 1969, two American astronauts became the first humans to set foot on the moon. That was 50 years ago.
For nine days in the month of July, 1969, the people of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County followed the Apollo 11 Mission with breathless attention. Like other Americans, they knew this was the culmination of a decade of effort. After the turbulence of the 1960s, many hungered for a story of ingenuity, determination and bravery that all could celebrate together.
In keeping with NASA’s policy of openness about the space program, much of the voyage was shown and analyzed on television. Every moment was fraught with peril. The deaths of the three astronauts of Apollo One, a year and a half prior, confirmed that the risks were real. One local resident, interviewed years later by the Charlotte Observer, recalled “marveling at the minute-by-minute planning and waiting in suspense.” (Ann Doss Helms, “Man on Moon, Wonder in Gaston” Charlotte Observer, July 20, 1989, p.1 of Gaston Observer section.)
The actual moonwalk lasted from 11:00 p.m. Sunday night to 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. President Nixon informally declared July 21, 1969, “Moonday.” North Carolina state workers got the day off, but others reported to work bleary-eyed. The Observer reported that traffic was light uptown and that the Apollo mission was “all anyone could talk about." (“In Charlotte, N.C., Moon-Struck Relief . . . Sighs,” Charlotte Observer, July 22, 1969, p.9A)
The Welch family owned a dance studio in Shelby, NC, in 1969. A photograph of their tribute to the Apollo 11 Mission was printed in the Charlotte Observer on July 25, the day after splashdown.
“’We were together, but separated, like Columbia and Eagle,’ said Welch.”
Charlotte Observer, July 25, 1969, p.9A
One local boy turned eleven years old on the weekend of the moon landing. His family created a three-foot high birthday cake in the shape of a Saturn rocket. “When the candles that formed the numerals “11” were touched off, the burn was so intense that the “O” in Apollo was badly scorched.” (“Birthday Blastoff,” Charlotte Observer, July 24, 1969, p.1B)
Fortunately, the real Apollo 11 suffered no such fate, fulfilling the hopes of all who watched.