The Moon Shot: Part II
Up close to a Saturn V Rocket
by Juan Wilson
© The Gobbler: Bounty 1994
City Coach on Interstate 95 in Georgia. Monday 6:15 am July 14th 1969
It's strange how some things dawn on you slowly.
As we sat on the porch/bus stop, the few customers coming and
going reacted to us in funny ways. At one point I realized there
was a screen wall on the porch that divided it in half for no
apparent reason. Later it occurred to me that people used either
one side or the other of the porch. They might be coming from
one direction, but would walk around the partition the long
way to get to the store.
Finally I realized that we were sitting on
the black side of a segregated bus station. With so few customers
it wasn't that obvious, but after making eye contact, I felt
that David had known it from the start. He certainly had seen
enough of racial segregation in South Africa to be tuned into
the vibes. He smiled.
As a group, the three of us were hard
for the locals to categorize. I imagined they thought David
clearly belonged on the other side of the partition, however,
he was traveling with two "hippies" who were of indeterminate
ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Between Ralph and I there was
blood from some Eastern-European, Jewish, Native American, and
Afro American ancestors mixed with our own brand of white hippie
nomad. Of course David was a southerner, but from another hemisphere.
Neither the blacks nor whites seemed to be comfortable with
us on the porch, so we got up and waited in the street.
We switched to the express bus in Fayetteville
and rode through the night and through Georgia and into Jacksonville.
The bus trip went pretty much as planned, although it was distorted
a bit after Ralph and I dropped some gelcaps filled with hashish.
Our plan was to get high in the South without having to light
up and smoke. We had prepared several gelatin capsules in New
York for this purpose. A long boring bus trip seemed a good
time for a test flight.
Coke machine in Titusville Florida. Monday 12:10 p.m. July 14th 1969
In Jacksonville David rented a yellow '69 Chevy
Camaro with a black vinyl top. It was still two days before
the blastoff. Near Canaveral we got a local map, and began cruising
for a place to camp along the shoreline in Titusville. US Route
One went along the shoreline, which was the bank of the Banana
The river was several miles across and about six inches
deep. It separated the mainland from Cape Canaveral and the
Kennedy Space Center. Unless you were a VIP with a pass for
the bleachers next to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), you
weren't going to be closer than the west bank of the Banana
Right next to Route One, the parking lot of
the Holiday Inn was filled to capacity with campers and station
wagons from every state in the union. Signs warned "Parking
for Guests Only". The radio estimated that over a million tourists
were going to be in the area at liftoff on Wednesday morning.
A little south of the Holiday Inn, the shoreline bent east away
from Route One. A small residential lane turned off the main
drag and followed the shore.
We turned down it and discovered
a small neighborhood of single family homes. These houses were
on the west side of the lane away from the water. They had lawns
that extended across the road and down to the water. Many houses
had wooden boat docks for small craft.
There was a lot of shade
from palms and other tropical trees. It appeared some campers
had made arrangements with home owners for permission to setup
on the water's edge. We stopped and looked across the water.
It was flat as a pancake and across the water we could see the
It was five miles away, where the sky met the
water, yet it was easy to see the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).
To the left of it, and beyond another three miles, was the gantry
tower and the Saturn V rocket. These structures had a bluish
hazy quality at that distance, but being 400 feet high, they
dominated the landscape in all directions. This spot would be
Being the most "normal" looking member of our
group, we enlisted David to approach the nearest house and ask
permission to camp. Ralph and I took a walk.
A retired couple
answered David's knock. They knew from the radio reports that
they would soon be inundated. They had decided that it would
be impossible to stop the camping by strangers and that they
would do better to pick and choose who was camping and thus
have some control of events to come.
They were delighted by
Dave and gave him permission to stay next to the dock as long
as he wanted.
After securing our campsite we shopped at a
nearby Woolworth's for broom poles and plastic sheeting in order
to make a tent. We picked up a couple days worth of canned chili
and beef stew as well. Back at the site we set up our clear
plastic tent near the dock and found some downed branches for
a fire on the little beach. It had been a productive morning.
Abandoned gantry tower Kennedy Space Center. Monday 3:10 p.m. July 14th 1969
was noon on Monday the 14th and it was time for a tour of the Space
Center. We got back in the Camaro and drove out on the causeway from
Titusville to Cape Canaveral. There were tourists crowding the
visitors' center. We wanted to get out to the steaming Saturn Five on
Bus tours led out from the visitors'
center at 15 minute intervals. We boarded the 2:45 p.m. bus and rode
past the rusting and burned out remnants of abandoned rocket gantry
towers towards the Apollo 11 site. Like spent shells, rockets of the
past baked and bleached in the sun, displayed on steel frames anchored
to concrete pads along our route.
As we approached Pad 39, it was
hard to tell the scale of what we were witnessing. It wasn't until the
bus stopped about a quarter of a mile from the Saturn V rocket that we
began to sense the immensity of the effort to get to the moon. The bus
and the driver went through his patter detailing the statistics on the
He said the rocket itself was over thirty-five
stories high. It took two days to move the rocket on the tractorized
launch platform from the VAB building to the mound from which
it would lift into space. This three mile long roadbed was 30
feet deep of crushed gravel.
Apollo 11 on Launchpad 39 on Cape Canaveral. Monday 3:30 p.m. July 14th 1969
But it wasn't until we spotted the glistening
top of the 2 p.m. bus that had preceded us that things really
came into scale. It was dwarfed under the twenty foot high treads
of the tractorized platform vehicle. The driver of our bus let
us out for a few minutes to take pictures. We piled out, and
I jumped up and down yelling at the sight of it all. It seemed
incredibly complicated even at a distance.
Small ports along
the sides of the rocket vented gasses. A hundred of trucks and
vans serviced the pad and the tower that in turn serviced the rocket.
Hundreds of technicians climbed ladders and negotiated catwalks
of the launch tower, hundreds of feet above the ground inorder to check
on the rocket.
It's hard to describe.
Part III: Natives
Witness the Launch