Valley residents recall memories of moon landing - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Valley residents recall memories of moon landing

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2019 9:00 pm

An estimated 650 million people watched televised coverage of Apollo 11’s moon landing mission on July 20, 1969 and heard Neil Armstrong say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Fifty years later, the memories remain vivid for many.

“As a kid of the ‘60s, the mission to the moon was right up there in shock value with the Kennedy and King assassinations, but the shock this time was both redeeming and inspirational,” said William F. Strong, professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Department of Communications. “We were well aware that Kennedy’s prophecy and promise from the beginning of the decade had been fulfilled.”

In a speech before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge and set the ambitious goal to safely land an American on the moon before the end of the decade.

Strong was 14 years old when the historic lunar landing was broadcast into homes across the world.

“I was sitting with my two brothers two feet away from our brand new color TV that was now rendered impotent by the black-and-white video from the moon,” he said. “My father sat on the divan, smoking his pipe and creating an inversion layer of white smoke across the room that made the TV slightly dimmer. He was our color commentator who told us, ‘You boys remember this day. You don’t often see history being made right in front of your eyes, but that’s what you’re seeing now. It’s not just the most important event of your lifetime. It is one of the most important in the history of man.’”

Brownsville native and Vietnam veteran Victor Sabala was a 22-year-old airman assigned to the 458th Tactical Wing at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. He had been sent on a temporary assignment to Bangkok, Thailand, to recover a C-7 aircraft with engine trouble the day the Apollo 11’s lunar module, dubbed the Eagle, landed on the moon.

“I was sitting in the bar at the Happy Hotel watching the moon landing on the small black-and-white TV,” Sabala said. “The locals were very excited, as were the American GIs visiting there. The bar was packed, and everyone was just mesmerized by what was happening on the screen. American soldiers began to cheer when Armstrong jumped off the ladder down to the surface.

“The landing also occurred on my brother’s birthday, and I remember the local Thai newspaper published a photo of the lunar module the next day on their front page.”

For the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley wing commander and veteran pilot David Hughston spoke to The Brownsville Herald about the career of his cousin, Brownsville native and University of Texas graduate Randy Stone, who was a 34-year veteran of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Mission Control. Stone was appointed the NASA’s deputy director in November 2001.

Randy Stone passed away in November, 2013 at the age of 69.

“Randy began his career with NASA in 1967 developing landing and recovery equipment for the manned lunar landings of the Apollo Program,” Hughston said. “And he served in positions in Mission Control ranging from flight controller, to flight director, and director of mission operations.”

Hughston said his cousin was considered “one of the foremost experts on human space flight,” and played “key roles in the success of space exploration and the Johnson Space Center.”

Among Stone’s achievements were contributions to the Apollo program, the space shuttle program and the International Space Station program.

Hughston discussed the Apollo 11 mission with Stone prior to his death.

“I asked him about the courage and commitment of the crew, who he knew well,” Hughston said. “All he said was, ‘They all were prepared and expected to die. That’s how committed and courageous they were.’ Sometimes, I think we forget that it takes special kinds of people to face the unknown and dare to try.”

sgroves@brownsvilleherald.com

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