Rockport resident and astronomer Bill Waller recalls where he was 50 years ago Saturday night.
The Rockport High School science teacher was taking a summer course in astronomy at Harvard University, and was at the Harvard Coop store, where he and others gathered around some of the Coop’s TVs to watch coverage of Apollo 11 and the first moon landing.
Now, Waller has organized a celebration of the 50th anniversary of that historic event. He and Earl Kishida — a former U.S. Navy captain who worked on retrieving later Apollo astronauts when their spacecrafts splashed down into the ocean — will present their views on the landmark mission.
The program is set to run from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan St. in Gloucester, and is loosely timed to coincide with the actual landing of the Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, Waller said. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted to support the Rockport Community Observatory Project, an effort spearheaded by the Educational Foundation for Rockport to bring an observatory to the town’s public schools campus on Jerden’s Lane.
The Eagle spacecraft touched down on the moon’s surface at 4:17 p.m. that Sunday in the summer of ‘69, and the late Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon at 10:56 p.m.
Waller said Thursday the moon landing still resonates 50 years later, through a number of scientific gains.
“I would say the entire Apollo program had a major impact,” Waller said.
For one thing, he said, the rocks brought back by the crew — Armstrong was joined on the surface by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, while Michael Collins piloted the Apollo spacecraft above — have helped scientists explore the projected ages of the moon (4.5 billion years) and solar system (4.6 billion).
“So something clearly happened within those first 100 million years that gives us a sense of context for our solar system,” Waller said.
Also, “little glass beads” the astronauts brought back from the moon’s surface contained water, Waller said, and the analysis of that water shows that the water on the moon matches the water on Earth.
“We share the same water, and it’s the same as (found in) asteroids, but not in comets,” he said. “So it gives us insight into where we got our water.”
Kishida, meanwhile, noted that Apollo 11 and the other Apollo missions brought significant advances from technology and engineering standpoints.
“Obviously, there were giant leaps in those fields,” said Kishida, who was trained in basic underwater demolition in 1970, served as a diving officer for the SEALS Underwater Demolition Team, and headed up the recovery of the three Apollo 16 astronauts when they splashed down in the Pacific as a closing part of their mission in 1972.
The Apollo 16 crew of John Young, Charles Duke and Ken Mattingly would be the penultimate mission for the Apollo program. NASA had mapped out plans for missions up through Apollo 20, Kishida recalled, but would cancel missions beyond Apollo 17.
“By the time Apollo 16 came around, it seemed as if it had become a sort of ho-hum,” Kishida said of the public’s perception of the project.
But that was hardly the case when, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission literally touched down where no humans had ever been before.
“The important thing that sticks with me, and will stick with me forever,” he said, “was the galvanizing of the American vision and outlook — and spirit.
“It really focused the energies and aspirations of everyone in the United States, around the world, really, but especially in the United States,” Kishida said. “It made everyone proud to be an American again.”
Staff writer Michael Cronin contributed to this story by Ray Lamont, who can be reached at 978-675-2705, or email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: 50th anniversary commemoration of Apollo 11 moon landing.
Where: Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan St. in Gloucester.
When: Saturday, July 20, 8 to 10 p.m.
Admission: Free, but donations accepted for Rockport Community Observatory Project.