On the night Apollo 11 landed on the moon 50 years ago Saturday, Barbara Bowe was supervising the third shift at Raytheon in Waltham, where she oversaw workers who wove by hand the core rope memory for the flight computers.
About 100 people were in the room listening on a radio as the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle touched down on the moon’s surface. Bowe documented the historic transmissions with her tape recorder.
“When everything happened, everybody was excited and happy, especially knowing that they were a part of it,” Bowe, 85, said Saturday while visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for events marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. “Their workmanship was up there.”
The daylong festivities dubbed JFK Space Fest 2019 drew more than 3,500 visitors of all ages to the Dorchester museum, where crowds gathered to hear from former astronauts, get up close with the Freedom 7 spacecraft that carried astronaut Alan Shepard in 1961, and see the Milky Way through virtual reality headsets.
“I asked the audience this morning, ‘How many of you want to be astronauts?’ And many children and many grown-ups raised their hands,” said Alan Price, director of the Kennedy library and museum.
Kennedy inspired generations of Americans to set their aspirations on space in 1962 when he challenged the country to land a man on the moon successfully by the end of the decade. Though he didn’t live to see his dream realized, Kennedy’s legacy and the Apollo 11 mission are deeply intertwined.
Former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz, who addressed a crowded auditorium at the museum, said he watched the moon landing from a student union at the University of Connecticut, where he was attending a summer program.
A native of Costa Rica, Chang Díaz, 69, said his love of space began when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957. As a child, he said he listened to live transmissions from the Mercury and Gemini space programs at a cultural center near the US embassy in Costa Rica.
Chang Díaz said he didn’t speak English at the time, but knew all the American astronauts by name. One name that came up, however, in exchanges between astronauts and mission control confounded the future space explorer.
“Who’s this guy ‘Roger?’ ” Chang Díaz said he often wondered. “Of course, later I found out.”
The moment of the moon landing, he said, was “phenomenal.”
“Some people were in tears,’ said Chang Díaz, who participated in seven NASA spaceflights and is the father of state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz of Jamaica Plain. “People were blown away.”
Chang Díaz now lives in Houston, where is chief executive at Ad Astra Rocket Company, the business he established.
John Finck, 85, toured the museum wearing a baseball cap featuring a patch from the Apollo 13 mission and the words, “Failure Is Not An Option.” The famous phrase was the title of a memoir written by Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director who helped guide Apollo 13 home safely in 1970 after an explosion onboard.
Finck said he worked on the Apollo program for seven years, designing life support systems for the astronauts while he was employed by Hamilton Standard in Windsor Locks, Conn.
The night of the moon landing, Finck said he was at home in Simsbury, Conn.
“I was glued to my television set with my family,” said Finck, who now lives in Manchester, N.H. :"We were all on call in case there was an emergency.”
His proud parents called from New Jersey, Finck said, after the lunar module landed.
“As far as they were concerned, I did the whole thing,” he said laughing.
Being a part of the Apollo program was “amazing,” said Finck.
“We were on the threshold of new technology,” he said. “There were things we did that were never done before.”
Saturday’s event drew many families with young children, some of whom wore spacesuit costumes and participated in interactive activities like building astronaut puppets, creating space helmets, and designing spaceflight patches.
Sarah Chamberland, of Tiverton, R.I., brought her 8-year-old daughter, Avery, who was dressed as an astronaut for the occasion.
“She has a very strong interest in wanting to be an astronaut or an astronomer,” Chamberland said.
Avery Chamberland, who is entering the third grade, held a space helmet from her costume. She hoped, her mother said, before leaving, that an astronaut would autograph it for her.