The first words that astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke on the moon are ingrained into 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 Rockville Centre residents who were alive during the successful Apollo 11 journey 50 years ago, it’s more than just a quote. It is a reality they lived to see.
“It was such a big deal,” said village resident Bill Manteria, who attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., at the time. He said the school celebrated the anniversary of that day, July 20, 1969, for years afterward.
Not only was it a big deal then, but it is still a significant event in United States and Long Island history, noted Frank Colon, commander of the Rockville Centre’s American Legion Post 303.
In 1969, Colon was a teenager attending Mepham High School in Bellmore. He recalls teachers stressing Apollo 11’s importance and the excitement that the mission created. “It was a big thing,” he said. “The science department pushed to make sure kids were interested and involved.”
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.
“It’s an important piece of history right here on Long Island,” Colon said. “Young kids nowadays don’t even realize it.”
Apollo 11 happened at a crucial point in American history. The U.S. 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 before Americans’ eyes eight years later.
“There were rumors it didn’t happen,” Richard Skolnik, of Rockville Centre, remembered. “But it did come to pass; our promises were kept. There was so much excitement over beating the Russians.”
Lifelong village resident Jeff Greenfield felt the excitement, too. As a 16-year-old, he was away at summer camp in upstate New York on the day the Eagle lunar module landed on the moon.
“They brought us into the social hall and had a TV hooked up,” Greenfield recalled. “To me, it was exciting, because we were studying it in school.”
Greenfield also noted that there were no big-screen TVs in the ’60s, so he and the campers all huddled around, trying to catch a glimpse of the broadcast.
More than 600 million people worldwide tuned in, as well.
Ellen Grossman, a lifelong village resident, was 20 at the time. She remembers moving from her old house into another in Rockville Centre and unpacking as she watched the historic events unfold. She had “the only color TV on the block,” she said.
“Everybody was glued to their TVs and watched [Armstrong] step out,” Grossman remembered. “It was just a big thing that you could watch it on TV.
“We take for granted that we have instant viewing of everything now,” she continued. “Not everything could be watched on TV in real time back then.”
Rockville Centre resident Christopher Palmer was born the day of the moon landing — and, of course, he will turn 50 on Saturday. “It’s always been a great feeling, knowing that my actual birth date is tied into such an incredible historical moment for America,” he said.
“I just hope that my birth didn’t overshadow those astronauts’ accomplishments in any way,” Palmer joked.