Retired longtime Hastings College science professor Clyde Sachtleben remembers just how lonely and deserted Nashville looked the day Apollo 11 touched down on the moon 50 years ago today.
Attending a 10-day conference at Vanderbilt University with his wife and son in tow, Sachtleben had little idea just how much of an impact the moon landing would have on his own life, let alone the lives of people worldwide for decades to come. But the emptiness he experienced looking upon what looked to be an abandoned city left and impression unlike anything he’s witnessed since.
“I remember the night specifically, oh my goodness!” he said. “We were in a dorm and I looked out on what was usually a very busy street and there wasn’t one car moving. The streets were vacant: People were inside watching their televisions.”
What they were watching lifted the possibilities for mankind to the heavens, with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (with Michael Collins in lunar orbit in the command module) taking those monumental first steps on the moon’s surface. The mission, which endured for 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, ended with a triumphant splash down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.
A truly remarkable feat, the moon landing elevated the U.S. space program to new heights, realizing ithe lofty goal set less than 10 years earlier in 1961 by President John Kennedy to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
“When Armstrong came off and said, ‘One small step for man, one giant step for mankind,’ that was classic,” Sachtleben said. “That’s once in a lifetime that you’ll see something like that.”
Hastings Museum will revisit that immortal moment Saturday with an anniversary showing of the documentary film “Apollo 11,” at 9:15 a.m., 2 and 7:15 p.m. on its 65-foot super screen at 1313 N. Burlington Ave.
“The movie shows how much effort it took,” Sachtleben said. “This was before we had fancy computers, you understand. This was 1969, and the manpower it took at the control center in Houston to control this at the Cape is unbelievable. It put America in a different light than ever before, showing that with extreme cooperation among lots of brave people that they could do anything.”
Likewise, the accomplishments of the space program empowered Sachtleben and fellow HC physics professor Carl Throckmorton to secure six matching Natural Science Industry grants and launch a state-of-the-art physics department at the college.
Ironically, it was the success of the Russian space program’s Sputnik 1 mission in October of 1957 that largely sparked the movement for backing science-based studies across the nation, Sachtleben said. The need to be first propelled the U.S. program to new heights, making the need to educate future scientists to accomplish that mission all the more imperative.
“When Sputnik flew over, the Russian scientists were way ahead of us in that they had already put something in orbit and brought it back down,” he said. “It was a fantastic stimulus that we needed more science taught in our schools.
“I didn’t realize it when I was in graduate school at that time, but when I came to Hastings College (in 1960), we had a very small budget for equipment. It was because of the moon probes that the country was putting money into science, so there were matching grants given to colleges across the country. Hastings College was willing to allow us to write these proposals so that for every $1 we spent we’d receive $2 worth of equipment.”
The moon and space program would continue to have a major impact on both Sachtleben’s career and the college going forward. As an instructor, he was given permission to show an actual moon rock kept in the school vault to students.His influence as instructor and support as friend helped motivate and inspire the future career path of Nebraska-born Astronaut Clayton Anderson.
Anderson was just 10 years old living in Ashland when the Apollo 11 mission took flight. He can scarcely remember details of that viewing, only that he watched it on television in black and white, most likely in the home of his grandmother and oft-times babysitter Martha Anderson. It was actually an earlier mission in December of 1968 that first captured the imagination of the future astronaut.
“Nothing against Buzz, Neil and Michael, but the Apollo 8 mission behind the moon was a bigger deal to me, the one I remember,” he said. “That was pretty dramatic for me. One does not have much control over their career as a 9-year-old, but it definitely was seed planting. My mom says we talked about me becoming an astronaut when I was as young as 6, but I don’t remember that.”
Reflecting on the space program’s enduring contributions to technologically, the U.S. spirit, and society on the whole is a humbling and uplifting journey for the former astronaut.Going boldly where no man had gone before, the earliest pioneers in space demonstrated a resolve and commitment to the program unrivaled by their modern day counterparts, Anderson said.
“I feel inadequate to be compared to these guys,” he said. “They got on rockets that were untested and got into space suits that no one had worn before. To do what they did in my opinion was hugely courageous.
“I got on a shuttle that had been flown 100 times collectively and felt pretty certain about the outcome and that it would be good. These guys were doing things no one had ever tried before. To me, that really does say they had the right stuff.”
Anderson spent this week in Nebraska delivering speeches in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, though most of his messages have had little to with the mission itself. He’ll return to his home state of Texas Sunday to deliver the sermon, “Do Your Part,” at Webster Presbyterian Church, which he said is known as the church of the astronauts.
“The story is that 50 years ago Buzz Aldrin took communion elements from there (WPC) and that it was the first sustenance taken on the moon by a human,” he said. “It was taken just as it would have been taken on earth at nearly the same time.
“What that story says is that God is with us in everything we do. The gist of my sermon is that He’s given us the tools we need to do our part, and that is how you have success.”
Now retired from NASA, Anderson teaches part time at Iowa State and travels extensively to promote his three books. He still serves as an ambassador of the space program, though these days in a strictly unofficial capacity.
“I’m lucky if my badge will still get me inside the front gate (at NASA headquarters),” he said. “They don’t use me too much but I’m still an advocate.”
He said it is important that the U.S. maintain its edge as the leader in space technology going forward. To that end, he is encouraged by pledges from the Trump Administration to provide additional funding for the Artemis ongoing crewed space program as it plans a return trip to the moon in 2024.
“I hope it is adequately funded for us to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t help to have a plan no matter how well defined unless you have the funding that’s going to allow you to execute that plan. Apollo put us on the moon before anyone else and we’re still the leader. I want us to stay the leader. I don’t want us to take a back seat to anyone in any way.
“You can never underestimate the technology that came from Apollo that people are using today: Satellite systems that allow for GPS and communication around the world, and the fact that computers are miniaturized these days.”
As program director at Hastings College observatory, Dan Glomski worked with Sachtleben for more than 30 years. And while he has no recollection of watching the Apollo 11 mission on television at age 5, he does remember the reverence shown in his home for subsequent Apollo missions.
“One of the reasons I remember them is there were very few things that our family would stay home from church to see,” Glomski said. “I think there was a sense that we were witnessing history being made with these things.
“I think they were a little more historic than we even imagined, considering we haven’t been back to the moon since 1972. I never would have dreamed that we wouldn’t be back by now and are a ways from getting back.”
Given advancements in technology, subsequent trips to the moon are likely to answer far more questions than before as to how the moon may have formed, Glomski said. That the historic Apollo 11 mission captured the imagination of viewers around the world is undeniable, he said.
“If you had access to a television, chances are you were watching this thing,” he said. “Even the Russians were rooting for these guys to make it successfully, though they couldn’t say so at the time of course.”
Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov, the first space walker in 1965, said in an an interview years later that his own brush with death in space made him all the more anxious to see the U.S. mission succeed, Glomski said. His difficulties in getting back inside his capsule after his space suit expanded in the rarefied atmosphere has been retold by Glomski on numerous occasions during presentations at schools and libraries.
Having viewed the Apollo 11 film footage and materials documenting subsequent missions, he finds it surprising there are still people who claim the mission was faked, or at the very least, its footage. To him, the collective body of proof is simply too compelling to deny.
“The same objection always comes up: ‘How come there are no stars in the pictures?’ “ he said. “I guess if you want to believe we never went to the moon, that’s fine. But there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.
“I put these (disbelieving) folks in the same league as the flat earthers. The evidence is just too overwhelming.”
Donald P. Schneider has spent much of his life probing the heavens, using observational techniques to gather clues as to the origins and nature of the universe.
Schneider, 64, is Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. His primary research interest is observational cosmology, and he is world-renowned for his accomplishments, which have included developing a new technique to measure distances to galaxies; being the first to detect Comet Halley in 1982 as it passed 1 billion miles from Earth — a greater distance than any comet ever had been detected up to that time; and on multiple occasions discovering the most distant known object in the universe.
Once, however, Schneider was a farm boy growing up in eastern Kearney County and hewing to the ordinary pursuits of boyhood and adolescence: Attending public schools in Heartwell and later in Minden; going to Mass and studying his catechism at Holy Family Catholic Church in Heartwell; helping his father irrigate and cut wheat in the summertime; being the dutiful eldest child in a family of seven brothers and sisters.
Even then, however, Schneider had his eyes on the sky — and not just to watch for an approaching thunderstorm that, under certain circumstances, may provide a day off for farmers. In a 2009 interview, he told the Tribune that his interest in astronomy dates back to early childhood, and that he made the final decision in sixth grade that he wanted to become an astronomer.
And so it is that, 50 years ago today, young Don Schneider found himself watching television with his widowed grandmother, Gertrude Schneider, permitted to let his chores wait briefly as he witnessed human beings’ setting foot on Earth’s moon for the first time.
“I watched the coverage of the Apollo 11 landing in my grandmother’s home northeast of Heartwell on the afternoon of 20 July 1969, allowed to have a break from the irrigation duties for this moment of history,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune Monday.
Schneider is the son of Eileen Boller and the late Donald R. Schneider. Mrs. Boller and her husband, Bernard, now live in Hastings.
He graduated from Minden High School in 1973, received his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics with highest distinction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1976, and then went on to receive his doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in 1982. He served as a research fellow at Caltech from 1982-85, then was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1985-94. He has been at Penn State since 1994.
His research efforts have involved leadership roles in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a large international effort to produce a comprehensive digital map of the sky. He has pursued a special interest in finding and determining the properties of distant quasars — luminous objects associated with massive black holes in faraway galaxies.
The following are his reflections on the Apollo 11 anniversary and the impact of the U.S. space program on the course of his own life and career and the advancement of science:
“I was 6 years old when Alan Shepard became the first American in space, and I was mesmerized by the space program and the challenge to reach the moon by the end of the decade (which, to a kindergartner, was most of a lifetime distant!), A couple hours prior to each manned launch I would park myself in front of our small black and white television and listen to Walter Cronkite describe the countdown. (On those days, I would frequently rise before my parents, who never quite understood my fascination with watching a set of white numerals constantly change on the screen.)
“The events I particularly recall were the aborted launch (after ignition!) of Gemini 6 (in December 1965), the interruption of ‘Batman’ for the Gemini 8 crisis (March 1966), and the launch pad fire in 1967 that killed three astronauts. To me, the program was a tremendous national endeavor that played out during my formative years: living in an epic movie of which no one knew the ending (and certainly enlivened by the competition with the Soviet Union, who could justly claim many of the early epochal achievements in space).
“The most thrilling mission in my view was not Apollo 11 (although it was certainly the climax of the program), but the underappreciated epic trip of Apollo 8 (December 1968). This was the first time that man rode the mighty Saturn V rocket and essentially sundered the power of the Earth’s gravitational field, in the process breaking the manned altitude record by nearly a factor of a thousand. The crew orbited the moon for a day, producing the classic ‘Earthrise photograph’ and the memorable Christmas message ‘For all the people on Earth,’ and the never-before-tested high velocity return through the Earth’s atmosphere …
“A large number of professional colleagues of my age also cite the excitement, mystery and challenge of the early space program (not only the manned missions, but the early unmanned spacecraft sent to the moon and Mars) as inspirations for pursuing a career in science and engineering. The Apollo program certainly added a special, magical aspect to my childhood, and I feel fortunate to have had this experience.”
What’s better on a hot Friday afternoon in July than a bowl of ice cream?
How about seven bowls of ice cream?
I had the pleasure of trying seven different flavors of ice cream as a judge for the 4-H ice cream contest at the Adams County Fairfest.
This fun indoor contest, which is great on an extremely hot day, gives 4-H’ers the chance to make ice cream using their choice of recipe and ingredients. Those concoctions are then judged and ribbons given.
Traditionally, the kids will put their ingredients into a small coffee can and the lid is sealed shut with tape. The can is then put inside a larger coffee can and surrounded by rock salt.
The 4-H’ers will then roll the can back and forth until the liquid mixture inside turns to ice cream.
In recent years, kids have started using what I call “hamster balls” instead of the coffee cans to make ice cream.
The hamster balls are basically plastic balls with a hollow core that are filled with the ice cream mix. Then, the rock salt is put in through another entrance on the opposite end.
I had never used or experienced the hamster ball, so I was eager to see how they performed next to the traditional coffee cans. The risk with the coffee cans is that rock salt can get into the ice cream upon removal or when the chef adds ingredients late in the mixing process.
For many years, Tribune staff members have been asked to serve as judges for the contest. When I got the call from Nebraska Extension assistant Julie Oschner about a month ago asking if I would help out, I couldn’t say no. This is only my second time taking on the honor, and it’s quite the honor.
First, who doesn’t love getting to try a variety of unique flavors of ice cream while taking to some pretty cool Adams County kids?
I got to judge the senior division with Adams County 4-H Council member Doug Nienhueser. We tried seven different flavors of ice cream including flavors like s’mores, mint chip, coconut chia and cookies and cream.
Going into the contest, I was curious to see how the hamster ball ice cream would hold up compared to the traditional coffee can ice cream.
Surprisingly, the consistency wasn’t too different between the two containers and almost every cup we tasted was delicious beyond belief.
As we scooped into each cup, Doug and I would turn to each other and say almost the same comments, focusing on consistency, flavor and creativity. We left comments on each judging form.
Then I took the time to try to thank each of the 4-H’ers for giving me the opportunity to try their ice cream.
While Doug and I had the honor of naming the grand and reserve champions in the category, I think the most special part of the contest is the competition for the youngest 4-H’ers.
The ice cream in a bag contest gives the Junior Clovers, kids too young for traditional 4-H, the change to make ice cream in plastic bags rather than the traditional coffee cans.
While these kids don’t get blue or purple ribbons, the judges still tried each kid’s ice cream and smiled even when they got a big bite of rock salt on their spoon.
Whether there’s competition for that grand champion ribbon or just the thrill of participation, I think every kid was proud to present his or her ice cream to the judges and every judge was appreciative. There’s no doubt this is a cool and sweet event I’ll be attending again.
When Ken Stein wanted to find his father’s 1970 Case tractor nearly 30 years after it was sold in a farm auction, he was able to use the sales record to track it to a farm near Axtell where it was still being used on a feed wagon.
“I talked to him, told him what I wanted to do with it, and he was more than willing to sell it,” the rural Hastings man said.
In fact, Stein’s father’s name, Willard Stein, was still written on the dashboard.
“I restored the full tractor, but I left the dash like it was, with his name on it,” he said.
Stein entered the refurbished 1970 870 Case Agri King into the Adams County Fairfest Open Class competition where it earned a purple ribbon and is on display in the fairgrounds’ activities building.
The Open Class and 4-H static exhibits are open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and 1-7 p.m. on Sunday, the fair’s final full day.
Stein bought the tractor about three years ago and began the rebuilding process right away, which took about nine months.
He hired out the painting but did all the mechanical work himself.
“The engine got totally rebuilt, all tore apart, new pistons, new liners, the whole works in the engine,” he said. “It’s in good shape. It’s got a new clutch.”
He took it on the Tractor Relay Across Nebraska two years ago from Holdrege to the state Capitol in Lincoln and also has participated in local tractor drives.
“I really like this tractor because it’s got heating and air conditioning,” Stein said. “In 1970 this was one of the few tractors that had air conditioning. My idea is if I enjoy doing it I want to do it, but if I have to sit out in the heat I might not be interested in doing it.”
It was about five years ago he began thinking about finding his father’s old tractor.
“I thought that’d be kind of fun if I could buy my dad’s tractor, restore it and drive it,” he said.
To track down the tractor, Stein contacted the farmer who purchased it from Willard. The farmer told Stein he traded it to the Ford New Holland dealer in Grand Island.
After Stein found the retired owner of the dealership and expressed his desire to find the tractor, the dealership owner contacted the salesman who sold it.
The salesman found the sales record, which had the name and phone number of the person who bought it.
Willard’s tractor is Stein’s first Open Class entry in several years, which he did at the request of Open Class Superintendent Robin Stroot.
“Robin just wanted something a little different, and I said ‘Well, I’ll bring you a tractor,’ ” he said.
Stein also brought his rebuilt yellow 1928 Graham Brothers screen-side delivery truck, not as an Open Class entry, but to help display quilts.
“I just like to help them out, whatever I can do to give them something to look at,” he said.
Participation in the fair is tradition, he said.
“When I was young I was in 4-H, went to probably every Nebraska state fair there was and is,” he said. “The kids were in 4-H. Now the grandkids are going to be in 4-H someday. It’s just a long-standing tradition.”
Stein went off the Adams County Agricultural Society Board of Directors earlier this year after completing three three-year terms. He continues to be involved at the fair.
“We still help and support all we can,” he said.
Tradition of the fair is also important to Dennis Tessman, Stein’s exhibit neighbor in the fairgrounds activities building. The Hastings man’s 1940s-era Wayne 60 showcase gasoline pump is displayed next to Stein’s tractor.
Tessman also entered an old icebox. Both pieces also won purple ribbons.
He collects gas station memorabilia.
Participation is important to him, also.
“When I was growing up I was in 4-H and FFA in York County,” he said. “We took livestock to the show and entered projects in 4-H. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the kids’ stuff, and this year I got to thinking there’s Open Class for adults.”
His 17-year-old grandson, Jake Tessman, helped him unload the pump and the icebox Monday during Open Class Entry Day.
“It’s never a dull moment,” Jake said of his grandfather’s hobby.
He often accompanies his grandfather on trips to find memorabilia.
“We’re always going out on road trips picking, just going out finding stuff,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s nice to see people’s reaction when they go and see his whole garage and stuff that he does.”