Where were you when man walked on the moon?

Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 1999

Thirty years ago today, the most incredible, most distant and arguably the most perilous exploration of human frontiers in all history was about to come down - and radio reporter Dennis Egan was sitting on the dock of Auke Bay broadcasting fish stories.

On July 20, 1969, a little after 4 p.m. East Coast time, the Apollo 11 landing module hovered mere feet above the surface of the moon. It had less than 30 seconds worth of fuel left to do what had to be done - touch down on the Sea of Tranquility.

After winding up the exciting coho report, the future mayor of Juneau raced back to his home in West Juneau and just missed the first live television broadcast in Alaska of what was probably the 20th century's biggest do-or-die moment.

``It was incredible. It was unbelievable,'' Egan said. ``And it was being broadcast live. Normally, in Juneau, TV was taped and on about a 30- or 35-day delay at the time.''

Egan caught the replay and stayed glued to the tube until astronaut Neil Armstrong took that giant step off the ladder onto the moon.

University of Alaska Southeast astronomy Professor Donald Greenberg was a University of California grad student and also stuck to the TV, he said.


Donald Greenberg

``It was a really uplifting experience,'' Greenberg said.

But having played videotapes of the event for students for 25 years - and in effect having relived the moment repeatedly during that time - Greenberg's memory of his precise feelings at that time have dimmed.

Nevertheless, ``it was a major part of the exploration of our solar system,'' he said.

Juneau resident Joe Holbert, Vice President Spiro Agnew and then Interior Secretary Walter Hickel stood right there at the launch of the Apollo 11 rocket in Florida and hollered in unison: ``Go, Baby, Go!''

Holbert, now Juneau's general manager of TV Superstation Channel 8, was Hickel's press secretary at the time. Holbert was able to watch the moon landing from his home in Washington, D.C.

``It was the realization of a marvelous dream,'' he said.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, then freshly out of college and working for U.S. Sen. George McGovern, had taken a break and gone with a girlfriend to Rehoboth Beach in Maryland.

But Ulmer spent almost no time on the beach and instead used up the entire weekend ``watching this human adventure being played out. It was a powerful step of progress for mankind,'' she said.

Juneau carver Amos Wallace heard the whole thing on the radio, he said.

``We thought it was quite an achievement that we got there before the Russians. They had made it before us with Sputnik and the first man in orbit,'' he said.

Michael Orelove, a volunteer at the Marie Drake Planetarium, was at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago with his family and listened to the broadcast on a transistor radio.

``I was very excited, thrilled,'' he said. ``This was the culmination of the space program at the time. We were looking forward to the next step, the space station, Mars.''

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