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Remembering the Moon Landing & Looking Forward

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar lander touched down on the moon.

For that moment, the world united around the achievement. More than half a billion people worldwide were glued to TV screens, as they watched astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface. As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, several members of the UMass Lowell community recall where they were and what they were doing as they watched history unfold in real time.

Moonshot Memories from the UML Community

moonshot-supriyaSupriya Chakrabarti

Professor, Department of Physics and Applied Physics and Director, Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology

I had just turned 16 the month before the moon landing. I grew up in Kolkata (at that time Calcutta), which did not have broadcast TV at that time. We got our news from the newspapers and government-run radio. There was always a fight in our house as to who got to read the paper first. The moon landing was a big deal. There was an emotional response when we read “One small step…” and heard adults all around talking about it. A few days later, I was moving into my college dorm. Someone told me that I could see (a recording of the moon landing) at the U.S. Information Service in central Calcutta. I went there and saw a small black-and-white TV screen pointed outside and a crowd surrounding it. In the video, I saw the grainy, blurry image of a man clumsily coming down a ladder onto the surface of the moon. That was how I saw it: not live, not in the comfort of my home. Nevertheless, I was awestruck. I don’t think I fathomed the enormity of the achievement for a very long time. It is exciting that the current plans to return to the moon with scientific instruments have fallen on private companies. I can imagine a day when UMass Lowell students will be able to point at a location on the moon or Mars and tell their parents, “My instrument is revealing secrets that no one ever knew before.”

UML Vice Chancellor of University Relations Patti McCafferty pictured with her brother Peter at an event

Patti McCafferty

Vice Chancellor of University Relations 

I was 11 years old and staying in a cottage on Newfound Lake, New Hampshire. My aunt and uncle, Agnes and Tom Cormier, had no children and would invite their nieces and nephews to share their two-week vacation with them the last two weeks of July every year. My brother, Peter (’75, pictured above left), and I were watching the first moon landing on a small black-and-white television with rabbit ears and a manual dial that was perched on the kitchen table as my uncle looked on. To my aunt, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, space travel seemed only possible through the creative imaginings of Hollywood B movies and comic book fantasies. She was too nervous to watch, so she went into a nearby bedroom, where she could hear what was going on, but didn’t have to see a potential tragedy unfold. Peter, 16 at the time, was the typical teasing older brother. As Neil Armstrong began his historic descent down the lunar stairs, Peter yelled out, “Agnes, Agnes, they’re stepping on the moon. They’re sinking, Agnes, they’re sinking.” My aunt was unamused, yelling back, “Stop it, Peter Galvin, stop it right now.” My brother just laughed. He hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years.
UMass Lowell Vice Provost for Innovation and Workforce Development Steven Tello Photo by Adrien Bisson

Steven F. Tello

Vice Provost for Innovation and Workforce Development

I was 10 years old when we landed on the moon, but was already a big space fan.  I collected model rockets and had a 4-foot-tall Saturn V rocket model, complete with lunar landing module and command module, hanging in my bedroom. My parents and I watched the landing on a black-and-white television in our home in Tewksbury. It was very exciting, and kind of unreal, to actually see them land, then walk, on the surface of the moon live.  It was a very nice July evening, clear skies and a large bright moon. I had set my telescope up in the front yard, and Dad and I went out and scanned the craters on the moon in my naïve hope of seeing a rocket approaching.  While we couldn’t see the lunar module and astronauts, it was still very, very exciting. In 1999, the movie “October Sky” was released. The opening scene showed a group of small-town residents staring at the sky in 1957 as the Russian Sputnik satellite orbited above. Some expressed fear that the Russians were taking over space, while young Homer Hickam marveled at the feat and wondered how he could launch his own rocket. Homer was inspired by the challenge. I, like many others, was inspired by our ability to land a man on the moon and return safely to earth. It was a significant technological and human accomplishment – it challenged us, inspired us and rewarded us. Pulling this off, safely landing on and returning from the moon, told me all things were possible; you just have to work really hard to accomplish them. I like to think I carry this lesson with me today.
Gena Greher giving a lecture

Gena Greher

Professor, Music Department

I watched the moon landing with my parents on a black-and-white TV in our living room. That’s what one did before the age of screen ubiquity and hundreds of channels to choose from. For me, it was an event on par with the Beatles making their first TV appearance. Even now, after lots of plane travel, I'm still amazed that anything that big and heavy can actually stay up in the air. Back then, the idea that you could fly people to the moon seemed impossible to me.  It did feel as if a little piece of the way of life portrayed in “The Jetsons” was becoming a reality. I'm still waiting for the day where I just can push a button and get my car out of traffic. Back then, I had the sense that anything was possible, but I'm not signing up for any Space X flights any time soon.

moonshot-jackJack Wilson

UMass President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor

As a physicist working on my doctoral research at Kent State University in July of 1969, I was enthralled by the Apollo mission to the moon. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface, all of the graduate students were glued to the TV screen that we had set up. It was “one giant leap for mankind,” indeed. None of us doubted that this would just be the first step in an ever-growing exploration of space, but we would be proven very wrong. Sadly, the world stepped back from the exploration of space – for better or worse. Later, Armstrong became a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and I had the pleasure of getting to know him at various engineering conclaves. I was bowled over when I got a nice letter from him when I announced that I was leaving the UMass presidency to go back to being a professor. He understood, from his own experience, that working with students could be more fulfilling than living in the public eye. In 2005, I had the pleasure of helping the UMass Center for Business Research host astronaut Alan Bean (with Wilson in photo), the fourth person to walk on the moon and lunar module pilot of Apollo 12.
headshot of Jim Nehring

James Nehring

Associate Professor, College of Education

My family was on vacation on Cape Cod, and we were glued to our black-and-white TV set. For hours, all it showed was an image of the Eagle lunar module sitting on the moon. Nothing was happening, and Walter Cronkite was going on and on, talking nonstop. We were sitting on the couch, staring at this thing, with an endless monologue running. I was 11 years old, and I was so tired, I finally went to bed. About an hour later, they walked on the moon – and I missed it. Afterward, I felt like an idiot, and my two older brothers never let me forget it.
Claire Hall sitting at a table in UMass Lowell's Career and Co-op Center

Claire Hall

Recruiting Manager for the Career and Co-op Center

I remember sitting with my parents, my sisters and my grandmother in our small living room in our house on Wilder Street here in Lowell. We watched our television as the Apollo spacecraft landed. We had their eyes glued to the TV to witness this moment in history. At the time, I was too young to really understand the importance of man traveling to space. Looking back now, I realize how the Apollo missions accelerated advances in technology and inspired people to explore the field of science.
Ashwin Mehta

Ashwin Mehta

Associate Teaching Professor, Manning School of Business

In July 1969, I was 30 years old, and my wife and I were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An old schoolmate was visiting us, and we watched the moon landing as it happened on TV. My friend and I shouted, "JFK did it!" when the first man set his foot on the moon. We both had come to the U.S. in 1961 and had watched President Kennedy’s famous speech several times. We couldn't believe we were witnessing this. We both had also seen John Glenn circle around the earth in 1962, when we were in college, so watching the moon landing was surreal. 

And Now...

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    As a sophomore, Matthew Clancy designed a small satellite with a vital mission: getting children and teens excited about their STEM studies and aerospace careers. Now he’s developing his LEARNsat for NASA launch.
Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST)

UML to Launch Planet-finding Telescope, Nanosatellite

If all goes according to plan, UMass Lowell will have a planet-finding telescope soaring to the edge of the atmosphere and a miniature satellite orbiting Earth this year. The telescope and satellite are being built and tested at the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST) by teams of UML students, faculty researchers, scientists and engineers.

Earth as seen from space

Lowell Center for Space Science & Technology

The Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST) gathers today’s leaders in space science to study and understand interactions between Earth and the solar system and beyond.

JFK Space Fest: LoCSST is participating in a special commemoration to Apollo 11 and the historic moon landing at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston on July 20. LoCSST will have a booth at this event showcasing sample experimental work of our students such as CubeSat, a small satellite built entirely by undergraduates. Join us