A man was ready to take the first step on the moon, but that wasn’t going to help Phyllis Badgley put dinner on the table.
Milestones go better with a meal anyway.
On that epic evening 50 years ago Saturday, when Neil Armstrong, followed by Buzz Aldrin, set foot on the lunar surface, Badgley, like tens of millions of Americans, was watching as history played out on a black-and-white TV screen.
But she was also working on supper in her Baker City home for her husband, Don, and their children, Rick, then 12, and Joyce, 16.
Badgley, who’s 95, said she remembers well the widespread excitement that summer as America fulfilled the ambitious goal that President John F. Kennedy, little more than two years before he was slain in Dallas, laid out in a famous 1961 speech.
“Everybody was caught up in the news,” Badgley said.
She recalls that her mother, Louine May, who was in her 70s at the time, was if anything more amazed than her daughter and grandchildren.
Badgley remembers her mother remarking that during her life she had watched the progression from people getting around by horse and buggy, to a rocket that propelled humans 240,000 miles to the moon.
“She was just thrilled,” Badgley said of her mother’s reaction to the moon landing.
Badgley said that 50 years later, she has a similar feeling.
“I’m grateful that I’ve had a chance to witness so many technological advances over my life,” she said.
One of Badgley’s clearest memories of that July night is the fuzzy picture on the TV screen.
“It seems to me the picture was rather blurry,” she said. “But I can understand that.”
Her daughter, Joyce, also remembers that the images were less than sharp.
She also recalls how entranced her father was with what the family was seeing on the screen.
“My dad just being completely immersed in every single moment,” Joyce said. “It was such an immense happening.”
She said she wishes it were possible to convey, to people born later, how intense the emotion was surrounding the moon landing.
“You could hardly believe that humans were on the moon,” she said. “It was kind of otherworldly. It changed everything for our generation, how we thought of our place in the universe.”
Phyllis Badgley also remembers that excitement over America’s space program in general, and not just the Apollo 11 mission, spread through Baker schools as well as American society.
She and her husband had bought their son a battery-powered rocket toy that would “shoot off” its nose cone, rather like the massive, 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket blasting away its stages as it soared into orbit.
Colleen Brooks, 86, doesn’t even pause when asked about the moon landing.
“Of course I remember,” she said.
She and her husband, Howard, were at their Baker City home, sitting in the family room.
“We looked out the window and saw the moon,” she said. “I said, ‘Howard, can you imagine someone being up there?’ It was just unreal. You can’t even imagine someone doing that.”
Howard, who died in 2016, was the state geologist at the Baker City office for 36 years. Colleen said the space program especially caught the interest of her science-minded husband. (She doesn’t think, she said Thursday, that he had any moon rocks in his collection.)
“He really followed it,” she said. “It definitely made an impression.”
Bruce Nichols was 17, having recently finished his junior year at Baker High School, when the lunar module set down softly on the moon.
Nichols, now a Baker County commissioner, said he had awakened in the wee hours of the morning to watch several previous rocket launches as America, starting with Alan Shepard’s suborbital Mercury flight on May 5, 1961, made its way first into space, then into Earth orbit and, finally with the later Apollo missions, to the moon.
“All through the space race I was fascinated with space travel,” Nichols, 67, said.
As for the climactic events of July 20, 1969, when Armstrong took what was perhaps the most famous step in human history, Nichols said he’s “sure that I watched it.”
But he can’t recollect whether he watched the episode as it happened, or soon after.
He was working at the Safeway grocery store that summer, and he might have been on duty when Armstrong stepped onto the moon that Sunday evening.
Whether it was live or taped, Nichols is certain of one thing about his initial viewing of the epochal event.
“It was on black and white TV,” he said with a chuckle.
Nichols remembers well Armstrong’s verbal gaffe, which has become almost as famous as his step.
The astronaut’s statement — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — seems nonsensical, though Armstrong, who died in 2012, said what he intended to say was “one small step for a man,” meaning himself, as a contrast with the immense accomplishment it represented for all of mankind.
“I noticed it right off the bat,” Nichols said of Armstrong flubbing his big line.
(Although some people insist that Armstrong did utter the “a” but it was garbled.)
Ebell, who graduated from BHS a year after Nichols, in 1971, was 16 that eventful July.
“It was exciting, I remember that,” Ebell, 66, said in a telephone interview Thursday from Washington, D.C., where he is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “I remember everybody was excited.”
Ebell said he watched Armstrong and his crewmate, Buzz Aldrin, on a CBS telecast narrated by the network’s legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite.
“We were glued to the TV for a while,” Ebell said.
Ebell said he also remembers that the space race was a topic of discussion when he was attending elementary school in Baker City.
“The Russians beat us to space but we’re going to beat them to the moon,” he said.
He also remembers that “a lot of kids wanted to be astronauts.”
After moving to Washington, D.C., Ebell said he twice saw Armstrong.
The first was in 1986, when Armstrong was vice chairman of the commission that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Ebell said he also saw Armstrong at NASA’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 1994.
Ebell said he actually worked with another astronaut, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who was the second-to-last person to stand on the moon, during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
“He’s a great guy,” Ebell said of Schmitt.
Lisa Britton contributed to this story.