August, 2009

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July 20, 1969

By H. Scott Prosterman
             Today is a "where were you then and what were you doing day."
             I had just arrived in Knoxville for 3 weeks of the UT Sports
Camp for young jocks, and my family had just completed a vacation at
Callaway Gardens, GA. On the way through, we stopped in Atlanta for brunch
with family members. I remember my Uncle Sid looking at the paper and saying
in disgust, "Well that kills HIS chances of being president."  I then looked
at the Atlanta Constitution that had Chappaquiddick all over the front page.
             My head counselor was Steve Kiner the All-American linebacker,
who later played for the Cowboys and Oilers in the NFL.  At the beginning of
our orientation talk, Steve told us that we would get to watch the moonwalk
later that night, as long as everything happened on time.  Only THEN, did
Steve get our full attention.
             We got word that they landed during the afternoon, and everybody
was nervous about what would happen when they opened the hatch of the LEM
(Lunar Excursion Module).  Would everything work, or would some weird sci-fi
horror befall the astronauts?
             Around 10 p.m. about 40 guys were gathered around a 14" black
and white TV with spotty reception.  How perfect!  The pictures on the
screen were a "simulation" of what we HOPED was actually happening.
Armstrong gave a step-by-step call of opening the hatch and walking out.
When he uttered those words, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap
for mankind," we all breathed a sigh of relief.  The words seemed
appropriate and profound for the occasion.  At some point, I remember them
reading Bible passages I think from Genesis, maybe just as they landed.
Somehow, that made the guys watching less scared.  Some of the redneck
hillbillies were really terrified for the astronauts, and one kid said, "My
daddy said this is all a bunch of crap."  That guy didn't make too many
friends for the next 3 weeks.
             When I went to bed, I stayed up for a long time thinking about
what happened.  I finally went to sleep, sharing in a huge sense of grand
accomplishments, satisfaction and historical presence.  The world felt safer
and smaller that night, and on that night anything seemed possible.