By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
For many Americans, that first step on the moon was not just the greatest human accomplishment of all time.
It was a one-up on the Russians, it proved the capability of America as a nation, opened up a whole universe to the imagination and it added “astronaut” to the list of things young boys dreamed of being when they grew up.
But for Clovis resident Joel Butler, even when considering all the developments it brought to technology and the other practical things that came from space exploration, “looking back on it, the thing I think is the most amazing thing about it, is we did it just because we decided we wanted to.”
Monday marks the 40th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon.
At a time when the U.S. was heavily embroiled in Vietnam and tensions were high with Russia, Butler said the first moon landing had special importance.
“It was a big deal to beat the Russians. I promise you that it was a national pride thing,” he said.
Growing up watching the space program develop was something unique to that generation, the 52-year-old believes.
And it was downright entertaining for kids at the time, he said.
“They televised everything. Kennedy said we’re going to the moon and nine years later we did it,” he said.
“I just remember watching it with the whole family on TV that evening in our living room and I thought it was just one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.”
Butler’s experience is one mirrored in the youth at the time.
Tim Peterson said he marveled at the landing. And, being a golf enthusiast, he laughed when he remembered wondering just what would happen if a golf ball was hit off the moon.
“I was a little kid, 12-years-old. I remember everybody gathering around the TV,” he said.
“The time stopped. It was big news, pretty exciting. Everybody was going out and looking at the moon and imagining that we had somebody on the moon. It was pretty cool.”
Watching from Air Force barracks in Vietnam, then 21-year-old Glen Brakey said the troops shared the enthusiasm of the folks back home and celebrated with a “Yay, we did it,” attitude.
“It was always a space race with the Russians, especially when you’re at war,” he said.
But some of those who were adults at the time had mixed feelings about the space program or didn’t pay as much attention as their younger counterparts.
“I never was too much in favor of going to the moon. I don’t see what business we had going up there,” Mildred Widener said, explaining she felt then and now that the funds were needed elsewhere.
The Apollo program came with a high price tag.
The United States spent $25.4 billion on the Apollo program, which translates to nearly $150 billion in current dollars — less than the U.S. spent in both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007.
“I really couldn’t see the sense in it. I really thought it was waste of taxpayers money,” Ida Barclay recalled.
“I couldn’t figure what good it did anybody… at the time it didn’t really mean all that much, but it does now.”
The technological advances made in the short time after the moon landing still have those who remember in awe.
“It’s totally amazing how I can look at an iPod in my hand that would have taken two rooms of computers back then,” Peterson said.
“I remember thinking that’s way out there that will never happen. Now we have people living in space.”
Butler said he remembers thinking Mars would be next, and even though it hasn’t happened yet, what was accomplished 40 years ago is no less amazing.
“We don’t do that sort of thing anymore, but it was an enormous undertaking,” he said.
“That (technological) leap that they did then in those 10 years (before the landing) was unbelievable.”