ASH, NC (WWAY) — Exactly 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 rocket was hurtling through space on its way to the moon. 50 years and one day ago, a Brunswick County woman was in Florida watching it launch.
A 15-year-old living in Durham at the time, Stephenson drove down to Titusville, Florida with her mother, her cousin, and her cousin’s husband to watch the launch. They arrived the night before, and slept in their car.
“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life was the lights coming out of the clouds shining on the Apollo 11 capsule. It was just foggy enough so it almost looked eerie, but it was still beautiful,” Stephenson said.
She says it was a huge party, almost like Woodstock. There was no violence or crime, and everyone was kind to one another. The next morning, she says she and other kids climbed down to a beach area to get a closer view of the launch.
“We weren’t supposed to, but we did anyway. I guess they figured ‘what the heck,’ right?” she said.
Stephenson says they could hear the countdown as the rocket prepared to launch. When it finally did, everyone was in awe.
“When it went up, there was like this total quiet. Nobody said a word, nobody. It was like everybody was struck dumb, and I guess so, when you think about, this thing’s going to the moon,” she said.
Stephenson says they could still see the rocket as it got about a mile into the atmosphere.
“All of sudden you felt this warm rush of air that’s coming from the exhaust on the spaceship, and the sound. And it was pretty loud,” she said. “We were expecting it, but not as long as it took to reach us.”
Days after watching the launch, Stephenson and her family watched on TV with 600 million others around the world as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface. A year later, she convinced her dad to take her to Washington D.C. to see the capsule at the Smithsonian.
“I saw it before it went up, I saw it when it went up, saw him walking on the moon, and now here it is back on Earth. And when you’re 15 years old, that’s mind-blowing,” Stephenson said. “It’s still mind-blowing at 65 too, because it’s like, we did it. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. Of course they said the Wright Brothers couldn’t fly either, but they did.”
Stephenson says she’s been to 49 states and 19 countries in her lifetime, and the Apollo 11 launch is one of the most impressive things she’s ever seen.