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All of America watched the men on the moon
Megan Blume
Antelope Staff

The whole world watched as Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, stepped onto the Moon’s surface on July 20. The Apollo 11 space shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center four days earlier on July 16. Back then, the words “moon walk” brought up images of lunar rocks, astronauts and extraterrestrials, not a Michael Jackson dance move.

It was 1969, a year to remember for events and people still written and talked about so much that they have become iconic. Charles Manson’s cult murdered seven people in California. Jimmy Hendrix rocked the stage at Woodstock, N.Y., and Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It has been 42 years and the moon landing is still fresh in people’s minds.

Cheryl Starns, now a great grandmother, was living in West Covina, Calif., when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. “I remember the moon landing as it was such a big deal for all of us,” Starns said. “The coverage was on television and everyone was watching as much as possible. I can still shut my eyes and see them step out on the moon for the first time. It was all very exciting.”

Ranee Critchfield was 9 years old and living in Valentine when she first saw the men land on the moon. “I was sitting in the multipurpose room at the elementary school,” Critchfield said. “They had a television set up and we all sat on the floor and watched it on this small (by today’s standards) regular 27 inch screen.”

Dave Dent, owner of KVSH Radio in Valentine, was in college in 1969. “I was going to school for broadcasting in Kansas City,” Dent said. “It was late at night when they landed, and I was out at a wild party.”

President John Kennedy set a goal of reaching the moon before the Soviet Union by the end of the 1960s. In a 1961 mission statement, Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Starns daughter Roberta McKenna was just 6 years old. “I remember swimming in the backyard at our neighbors when my mom called us into the house,” McKenna said. “My mom said seeing the moon landing was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn’t miss.”

Kennedy died before seeing his goal reached, and President Richard Nixon was in office to announce the landing of Apollo 11. The astronauts planted an American flag on the moon’s surface and spoke with President Nixon on a telephone-radio transmission. Nixon said it was “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.” That was before anyone anywhere could talk on a cell phone.

Dr. Ralph Hanson, professor of communications, was living in Iowa during the summer of 1969. “I grew up with whole space program, because I was born in 1960,” he said. “I remember really clearly the night of the Moon landing, because we got to stay up late to watch it. It was the most incredible thing in the world because there were these people up there walking on the moon.”

On July 24, the astronauts returned home and landed in the Pacific Ocean. President Nixon welcomed the astronauts back to Earth saying, “As a result of what you’ve done, the world has never been closer together before.”

“I do remember feeling fascinated that we were sitting in Valentine, Neb., and clear up there in space these guys were walking on the moon, which felt like another planet to us,” Critchfield said. “Naturally all our ‘Weekly Readers’ were all about the moon landing, astronauts and space travel.”

A plaque was left behind on the moon with the inscription: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Although Apollo 11 was the first manned moon landing, there were five more manned moon landings between 1969 and 1972.

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