Fifty years ago to the day, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step onto the moon’s surface.

They had landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the lunar surface about seven hours before they spent roughly 30 minutes bouncing about and planting the U.S. flag at the site they dubbed Tranquility Base.

In Rockingham County, folks were gathered around TV sets to watch the breathtaking scientific strides that propelled the nation forth in the “Space Race” of the era.

Commander Armstrong would exit the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle at 10:56 p.m. EST. And while tiny children were tucked in, too sleepy to witness history-in-the making, teenagers and adults were making excited phone calls, popping popcorn for the big event and tuning their TV rabbit ear antennae for better reception.

Here are a few memories from folks around the county:

Joy Gann Brown and Jim Brown, Madison:

“We had recently moved to our new home in Hillsborough, N.C., when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Our older daughter, April, was 8 years old and was away at camp for the first time, so we were missing her. But it was Sunday, and Jim and I, with our younger daughter, Alison, who was 5, were relaxing as the day wound down,'' Brown said.

"Alison would go to bed at 8 p.m. She was not interested in the moon landing. Jim, being a scientist, was especially excited about it. I was interested, but not as intensively as Jim was.  About 9 p.m, a friend called to say their TV had gone out and could they come to watch the moon landing with us. There were four of them -- mom and dad and two children. One was a son who was about 12 years old, so he was very excited about the whole event. When Apollo 11 actually touched down without any trouble, we were all on the edge of our seats, and when the astronauts walked down the steps and actually set foot on the moon, it was almost breathtaking - much more so than I had anticipated,'' Brown said.

"I tend to be somewhat cynical, but at that moment I felt so proud of our country that we had pulled this off so perfectly. Gregg, our friend's son, was standing on his feet and looked gloriously happy - almost as if he had been one of the men who were standing on the moon. It was a happy ending to a good day.’’

There were plenty of skeptics

“I was entirely taken aback when several years later, a woman we knew … said it was all a staged event by the government to fool all of us. I don't remember if she gave a reason for the government to go to so much trouble for this. It was the first time I was faced with a conspiracy theory told for the truth, and I was astonished. I had believed that this woman was intelligent, but knew she was poorly educated, so I attributed her belief to ignorance. I had no idea how appealing conspiratorial ideas would take hold in this country …’’

Husband Jim Brown’s life in science and technology and participation in NASA projects were heavily influenced by the space race leading up to the Apollo 11 landing.

Jim Brown:

"In October 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. This event surprised the world and stimulated increased activity in US aerospace and defense industries and government. High technology companies like Bell telephone laboratories rapidly increased the hiring of engineers and technicians.

And, Sputnik had a profound effect on the plans Joy and I had for the future. In 1958 I had planned to go to graduate school in mathematics at NCSU, and had secured an assistantship in that department. The opportunity to work for Bell laboratories and to attend graduate school in electrical and computer engineering was too good to pass up. At Bell Telephone Labs, I was involved in (research and development of) the nation's Nike Zeus anti-missile defense systems.

Shortly after President Kennedy's space speech in 1962, I transferred to the Research Triangle Institute in the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. At RTI, I performed research in defense and space electronics and computer systems. In later years I was involved in NASA's efforts to transfer its technologies to applications in industry, including medical and environmental devices and process."

Annette Mills, Stoneville:

“We watched it T.V. and my mom and dad … it fascinated them. It was very exciting and I remember the astronauts planting the flag. We were living in Anchorage, Alaska, said Mills, who was 17 that summer. “It was just amazing, and my brother was really interested in everything about it.’’

Pat Callahan, Madison:

“I was in middle school, the 6th grade and we watched it on television. I thought it was just amazing,’’ said Callahan, who grew up outside Cleveland, Ohio. “And then they started coming out with all the little rocket kits you could build and all of the space-related toys. It was something.’’

Hassell Priddy Jr., Stoneville:

“I was a sophomore in high school, and I was very interested in what was happening. It was something we’d never done. Some people didn’t believe it had really happened, but I believed it. I just wonder why we’ve ever been back. I wish we’d go back. I don’t really think we need to go to Mars.”

Fletcher Dalton, Madison:

“ I graduated from college that day at Fisk University in Nashville that week and we were having graduation and events. I was amazed. I was very much impressed by the events,’’ said Dalton who, like Joy Brown, encountered skeptics. “Some people were thinking and saying it was a made in Hollywood production.’’

“I think it’s time for us to go to Mars or some other planet because America is not advancing as fast in that field as some other countries.’’

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Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101 and on Twitter @SusieSpear_RCN.​

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