Fifty years ago, an estimated 530 million people gathered around their TVs to watch astronauts take off from Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center on the Apollo 11 Space Shuttle for the first mission to the moon.
Since this historic event, there have been hundreds of missions to space and discoveries beyond Earth’s atmosphere. And the future of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to be a topic of interest and discussion.
For the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Sundial spoke with a number of special guests about their experiences with the space shuttle program: Robert Stone, director of the PBS documentary “Chasing the Moon”; Winston Scott, a former NASA astronaut; and Jean Wright, a former aerospace seamstress. Plus, WMFE’s space reporter Brendan Bryne joined the show to discuss the future of the space program.
If Robert Stone could time travel he would go to Cape Canaveral in 1969.
Stone is the director of the new PBS Documentary "Chasing the Moon," a three-part series of the leading to the 1969 Apollo 11 launch.
“Human beings have a natural desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Stone.
Stone spent the past five years combing through over 75 archives and thousands of hours of footage. Based on what he learned from his research, he said the town of Cape Canaveral was “completely transformed into a boom town” by July of 1969.
Stone interviewed former astronauts, including the first woman to serve in NASA’s all-male Mission Control and America’s first black astronaut. You can begin watching the three-part series on Tuesday, July 16, at 8 p.m. on WLRN TV (Ch. 17).
Former NASA astronaut and Navy captain Winston Scott never thought he would make missions to space. “It just didn’t appear like a reality to me," he said. "It was something you read about in magazines and books."
Scott, a Coconut Grove resident, attended Florida State University (FSU) with a music scholarship as a trumpet player. But midway through college, he noticed a budding interest in engineering and other science and technology courses. It wasn’t until Scott’s time as a Navy captain, right after college, that he began to want to be an astronaut.
“There are no words to adequately describe it,” Scott said about his experience in space and the impact it has on his friends and family.
“Being an astronaut, being selected and flying in space, is a true life changing event,” said Scott. “Not just for those of us who do it, but for all of your family, your friends, your acquaintances - people who only know you from afar.”
Scott is now a retired NASA astronaut and regularly speaks at universities about his time with NASA.
When Jean Wright was 13 years old, she gathered around the TV set with her twin sister to watch Neil Armstrong take the first historic steps on the moon. “All I wanted to do was be in space,” she told Sundial over the phone.
She accepted a job at NASA Kennedy Space Center as a seamstress on Valentines Day of 2005, which she calls “the most perfect day.”
She was part of the “Sew Sisters,” a group of 18 women that sewed fabric layers to protect the space shuttle from the intense climate in outer space.
Wright and her colleagues used a heavy 10-foot-tall, multi-needle sewing machine to build the outer-layer fabrics. The intricate stitching even made its way to a display at the Smithsonian.
“I was the last one to sew [the Discovery Space Shuttle] thermal barriers in before she flew over to Washington D.C.,” she said. “It was just neat to see that those were my stitches and that it will always be at the Smithsonian.”
Wright, now 63, lives in Titusville, Florida. She frequently speaks at schools and universities.
He goes by @SpaceBrendan on Twitter, and people from Florida and within the Orlando area know him as WMFE’s space reporter Brendan Bryne.
A native Floridian from Broward Country, Bryne covers everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. Bryne told us on Sundial that even though it has been nine years since the U.S. launched a “human from human soil,” he still sees a bright and exciting future in the space industry.
Since the Falcon Heavy, a partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX, “you are starting to see more excitement here in the space coast, there’s a huge public audience, it is getting there,” he said.
Bryne is also the host of "Are We There Yet?," WMFE's space exploration podcast.
This show was produced by Chris Remington and Alejandra Martinez. Our intern is Sherrilyn Cabrera.