The first words that astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke on the moon are ingrained in the minds of most Americans, whether they remember the historic moment or not: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For Malverne and West Hempstead residents who were alive during the successful Apollo 11 journey 50 years ago, those are more than just words. They heard them spoken live.
“At the time, the walk and the flag mounting were quite spectacular, although I didn’t appreciate it as much as I might have today,” said Lesley McAvoy, vice president of the West Hempstead Historical Society. “It was like a rock concert where everyone could be happy.”
McAvoy was 11 at the time of the mission, and attended elementary school in Cheshire, Conn. She went to her grandmother’s house in Waterbury to see the moon landing. “The space program had been part of my science studies all my life, it seemed,” McAvoy recalled. “It’s nice to see the renewed interest in space. Let’s hope the world treats new planets better than they have our own.”
Not only was Apollo 11 a big deal then, it is still a significant event in American and Long Island history, noted Malvernite Robert Powers.
In 1969, Powers was a 9-year-old living in Copiague who was intrigued with the idea of space travel. He watched shows like “The Jetsons” and “Lost in Space,” and he still he owns a rocket-handled coffee mug inscribed with the words Cape Canaveral, where rockets were launched.
“I look at that mug and it brings me back to when I was child,” Powers said. “It was a great time for our country, because it gave us a lot of hope. I think about this generation and I look at all the possibilities . . . we’ve come a long way. I’m hoping that in my lifetime, I can see more landings.”
The moon landing was especially important to Long Island. Grumman workers helped build parts of the space module, including at a manufacturing facility in Bethpage. Some of those parts remain on the moon 50 years later.
West Hempstead couple Blaise and Catherine Guzzardo reflected on where they were during the moon landing. Catherine said that she recalled watching it on a black-and-white TV in her family’s living room. “I remember my father yelling, ‘Come on, everybody, come up, watch, watch; it’s happening,’” she said. “We all gathered around the TV and watched it and were very excited.”
Blaise recalled seeing the landing on a small TV set in his uncle’s garage. Since it was summertime, he said, he didn’t need to worry about waking up for school, and could stay up late.
The landing of Apollo 11, which was viewed by more than 600 million people worldwide, happened at a crucial point in American history. The United States was locked in the Cold War and the “space race” with the Soviet Union. When President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, he pledged to put a man on the moon, and it was a great source of pride for the country when it happened eight years later.
“That was a notable and significant moment for the United States at that time,” noted West Hempstead resident Ann Feldman.
“It was a historical moment in TV history, but not many people realize that Apollo 11 was a huge steppingstone for technological advancements in our country,” West Hempstead resident Chris Fidis recalled, referring to innovations like computer software and smartphones. He watched it at home in his father’s bedroom in the Bronx.
Fidis, 60, who was also a huge fan of science-fiction films, magazines and shows such as “Thunderbirds,” “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space,” said his interest in technology and astrology has only grown since then. “It planted the seeds of imagination,” Fidis said. “There’s a lot that we’ve seen in the last 50 years, but looking back on the moon landing, that moment in American history still stands out to a lot people.”