50 years ago, space-obsessed young people like Debbie Duncan would do anything, anywhere to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
I was a depressed, privileged 16-year-old California girl exiled to Connecticut because of my father’s job when I convinced my parents to send me to Europe in the summer of 1969 with a student group from my old hometown.
For $800—including round trip airfare from L.A.—I toured and studied for six weeks in five countries with 180 high schoolers. We took classes in the morning and sang Beatles ballads in buses while traversing the continent. I read American news magazines on those trips, devouring articles about the planned landing and moon walk for Apollo 11 astronauts.
I’d been obsessed with space as a kid. Growing up, my favorite books were Rusty’s Space Ship and The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. My father had helped design the guidance system for Ranger, a spacecraft that took pictures of the moon. I told kids in the back of the bus on our ride from Amsterdam to Paris that I wanted to be an astronaut.
That’s when I figured out that the first moon walk would take place during our second to last night in Paris, broadcast on TV worldwide. Our bare-bones accommodations were modest, to say the least. No TVs. I asked the director of our tour, who’d been the principal of my elementary school, about finding a nearby television.
“Even with a teacher?”
“No one will leave the premises.”
That’s what he thought. I did what any other head-strong, formerly rule-abiding teenager would do: I snuck out with a bunch of like-minded students determined to witness history. I’d located an appliance store in the neighborhood with a bank of TVs facing the window that were always on. And indeed they were on in glorious black and white when we stood on the sidewalk at about 5 a.m., watching with a group of Parisians while Neil Armstrong stepped out onto Earth’s moon.
It. Was. Awesome.
Dawn was breaking as we walked quietly back to our beds. I had to wait until the buses got to Austria a few days later to find a magazine and read what Armstrong had said about “one small step for man.”
With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.
Debbie Duncan writes and reviews children’s books from her home on the Peninsula.