"Lift off. We have lift off. 32 minutes past the hour, lift off on Apollo 11." (NASA commentator)
They came on busses and trains. They came in trailers and campers. They came in station wagons and sedans. They came on motorcycles and bicycles. They staked their claims in the sand under the Florida palm trees. Campers popped their tents. Station wagon owners popped their tailgates. Motorcyclists parked their bikes. They unpacked groceries and built bonfires. They set up their telescopes and opened up their binoculars. They put on their sunglasses and focussed their cameras. And then they waited.
At dawn, the launch pad lights came on at Cape Canaveral. Television camera crews worked to set up for the launch. The ground crew prepared the spaceship. And the trio of astronauts prepared their bodies, eating their last breakfast on Earth. With a "common sense of purpose" the crowd of 1 million gathered around the launch pad at Cape Kennedy. At its centre was former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who proclaimed the rocket launch to be "a new era of civilization".
"Ten, nine, eight..." At 9:32 am, the Saturn V rocket ignited, sending a sheet of flames over the launch pad and over 20 acres of marshland surrounding Cape Kennedy. As the rocket rose into the azure sky, the spectators craned their necks, then erupted into a chorus of applause.
Within minutes, Apollo 11 was nothing but a puff of smoke. Slowly, the crowd dispersed. The television crews dismantled their equipment. The campers flattened their tents. The station wagons closed up their tailgates. And the motorcyclists revved their engines. With the Florida marshland in their rearview mirrors, the visitors returned to their hometowns, witnesses to history.
Note: For more information, visit my post "One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind" at http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2012/07/july-19.html.