LAKE JACKSON — As Janet Jackson Ellis watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon and utter his famous line about mankind leaping into a new realm of space exploration, she recalls the reaction of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite the most.
“Walter Cronkite was the most articulate reporter of his time, and when that moon landing happened, he was absolutely speechless,” Jackson Ellis said.
She said she watched the historic moment at Brazosport High School, where she taught language classes.
Jackson Ellis said the school didn’t have many televisions at the time, so everyone in the building crowded into one area to watch what would become one of the most memorable moments in American history.
“I remember when John F. Kennedy was elected and he said we were going to go to the moon,” Jackson Ellis said. “I still get chill bumps thinking about it today.”
Jackson Ellis’ husband, Garry Ellis, worked at Dow Chemical Co. when the moon landing happened.
“It’s been so many years, I don’t know if I remember the details of everything,” Ellis said.
Judi James, longtime Center for the Art and Sciences Planetarium director and current theater president, said the entire decade of the moon landing was a moment of living history.
James’ father was in the Air Force and had just returned from Vietnam at the time, she said. She remembers the political climate of the era, despite being just 13 years old.
In July 1969, James and her family were in the process of moving from Alabama to Washington, D.C., because her dad got a job at the Pentagon, she said.
James watched the moon landing at a family friend’s house while in commute from Alabama.
“We were all just so excited at what we saw,” James said. “Being that we were children, we thought of their families and their kids they left behind. I felt nervous when my dad was in Vietnam, so I could imagine what the families could be feeling.”
Jackson Ellis said the impact on her was paramount because the United States beat Russia to the moon. She remembers crying because of what it meant for space exploration.
“I just can’t believe I got to see something like that in my lifetime,” Jackson Ellis said. “Since that time, we’ve learned so much. I remember thinking, ‘Thank you, Lord, for the brave young men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for this mission,’” she said.