July 10, 2009 at 5:36 PM ET
Co Rentmeester / Time Life Pictures via Getty Images
Gamblers watch moonshot coverage at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas in July 1969.
On July 20, 1969, I was an Iowa farmboy watching every black-and-white move of a fuzzy-looking, spacesuited figure on our living-room television set. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was doing pretty much the same thing in New York City (though he was a mere 10 years old, four whole years younger than I was).
Sen. John McCain was sitting in a Hanoi prison - and wouldn't even find out that someone landed on the moon until a year and a half later. But for millions and millions of people around the world, even for McCain's Vietnamese captors, the Apollo 11 landing and that "one small step" on another world was a red-letter day that would be remembered through the decades.
Now it's your turn to share some moonshot memories: Where were you when Apollo 11 flew? Even if you're took young to have been around when the first moon landing took place (which is the case for more than half of the U.S. population), you can still feel free to comment on the past, present and future of space exploration.
Watch the moonshot, then milk the cows
I'd like to say that watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climb down to the moon's surface put me on the path I'm on today. At the time, I was just one more teenager with a 3-inch telescope who didn't know what he was going to do when he grew up. I do remember that watching the moonshot was pushing back my bedtime, which was particularly crucial because I had to get up at 6:30 the next morning to help my dad milk the cows.
Eventually, I left the farm and got into the journalism trade (after stints as editor of my high-school and college newspaper). I really didn't get into space news coverage until after I joined msnbc.com, almost exactly 13 years ago. But every now and then, I come across hints that there was a space geek inside me just waiting to be let out.
For example, while cleaning out my basement bookshelves recently, I rediscovered the special issue of Life magazine I've been saving for 40 years. And I've always gotten a little thrill from knowing that Neil Armstrong's parents once lived where my in-laws live today in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Check out this chapter from "First Man," Armstrong's authorized biography, to get an idea what the "center of the chaos" in Wapakoneta was like 40 years ago.)
I happened to grow up in the generation when the Apollo effort was winding down just as we were revving up: The last mission to the moon was launched just as I was entering college, and by the time I graduated, Apollo was history and the space shuttle era had not yet dawned. Some have even called my generation the "Orphans of Apollo."
Prizes for your prose
Now we're heading toward another spaceflight gap: An era in American spaceflight is winding down once more, and although NASA is taking aim at the moon again, the road from here to there is far from clear.
Even if you're too young to remember Apollo, I'd love to hear about your favorite space-related experiences, or find out what you think about the parallels and the differences between the 1970s and the current transition time. Please feel free to add your space-shot memories and your thoughts about the future of space travel as comments below. I'll pick out some of the comments for a follow-up story on July 20.
To get your creative juices flowing, I'll set aside my copy of Andrew Chaikin's wonderful coffee-table book, "Voices From the Moon," to send to the author of the choicest comment (as judged solely by this former Iowa farmboy). If you're so inclined, I'll send along the "Orphans of Apollo" DVD as well.
More on the Apollo 11 anniversary from msnbc.com:
More Apollo 11 reminiscences on the Web: