This week America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Most people old enough to remember, can tell you where they were and what they were doing on July 20, 1969, the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
But for Larry Nix, Armstrong walking on the moon was less about what happened on that day and more about the events that occurred in the decade before the moon landing.
“I’ve always had a big interest in the space program,” Nix said during a recent phone interview.
“I grew up in that period and followed it through from the first Mercury missions to the Gemini and Apollo programs,” Nix said, recounting the evolution of NASA’s space programs that landed man on the moon.
“As one who had followed the space program from childhood, it was just amazing to see a man walking on the moon,” he said.
Nix, 69, who now lives in Hamilton, grew up in the Bryd Community.
Nix watched the events of the space race unfold through his childhood on a small black-and-white television in an upper room of the Byrd School House.
Nix, 11 at the time, says he remembers being at the Byrd School House the day Alan Shepherd became the first American in space on May 5, 1961, and on Feb. 20, 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit earth.
“All of those were daytime events that happened when school was in session. A little black-and-white television was set up in one of the large open areas upstairs and they had some folding chairs and anybody that wanted to could get out of class to go watch. Of course, that was fun to get out of class, but for me, it was fascinating to watch the countdown and the launch. It was fascinating to see the three big parachutes open as the capsule fell into the ocean and the ships to retrieve it.”
Nix became so inspired by these events that he built his own spaceship.
“I built my own little space ship inside my dad’s shop. It was a box with some fake instruments and what have you, but I’d go in there and spend some time and imagine going into outer space.”
Later, during the Apollo launches, Nix assembled a small-scale plastic model of the Saturn V rocket by the Revel plastic model company. The Saturn V, the rocket that was used to launch Armstrong to the moon, was built in Huntsville.
“Once that thing was put together, the model itself was four-foot tall. It was complete with the escape tower and the return capsule. It was quite a modelling experience. I wasn’t a modeler, but that was just fascinating for me to build that Saturn V. That’s how much I was interested in the space program,” Nix said.
But before any of that happened, Nix says he remembers the event that kicked-off the space race between the Americans and the Russians: Sputnik.
Sputnik was the earth’s first artificial satellite launched by the Russians on Oct. 4, 1957. Sputnik orbited the earth for 13 days and could be seen by earth-bound viewers around the world.
“I can see it in my mind’s eye to this day,” Nix said.
“We were down at a Saturday night chicken fry and ice cream social at the Pleasant Site Church in the Byrd Community. Us kids were all outside playing and some adults came out and said Sputnik was going over. It was like a little bitty star going across the sky from west to the east.”
Nix, who today works as a financial adviser for the Edward Jones Investment firm and has an office in Hamilton, says the anniversary of the moon landing has him looking back fondly on those early days of American space flight.
“Those were colorful days. Those who did not live during that generation really missed some fascinating times in the history of our nation.”