Fifty years ago this month, the first humans stepped foot on the moon, and as they did it, a team rallied behind them at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Gladys Kirkland, 90, was one of them – an employee of NASA for 20 years, working as a financial bookkeeper for the federal space administration.
Kirkland will be on site during this year’s Aldergrove Fair, which is being held July 19 through 21 at the Aldergrove Athletic Park field.
Born in the deep South on a plantation in Grande Isle, Kirkland now lives just over the Aldergrove border crossing in Lynden.
“A good part of [her] life” – Kirkland describes the lead up to the moon landing a “busy” time, and especially during the historic 1969 mission.
“I started a contract with $50,000 in the 1960s and I wound up at the end of the year with $100,000,” explained Kirkland about reimbursing a third-party company for its work on the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
Kirkland remembers accounting for another $6 million over the span of years leading up to the moon landing – a sum that translates to a lot more in this day and age, she said.
“I did that with a pencil and a pad, no computers,” Kirkland remarked.
Kirkland said she gave American astronaut Neil Armstrong somewhere around $24 when he went off on his mission to the moon.
This was because “everything was finished – he didn’t have to buy food, lodging, or anything,” Kirkland explained.
Armstrong later used that money for his taxi fare back to NASA’s Houston headquarters, Kirkland chuckled.
“It was an exciting time for us. We had a lot of stuff going on, lots of money being spent – millions and millions of dollars,” Kirkland said about NASA in 1969.
Over a reported six days, Armstrong jetted off and took the legendary first two steps on the moon.
Kirkland and the rest of NASA’s finance department employees were freed up from work enough to be able to see the entire journey from the federal agency’s auditorium.
“Listen – you never heard such screaming,” Kirkland said about roars of excitement from NASA as the duo – which included astronaut Buzz Aldrin – walked on the moon.
“It was a first time thing… and we all wondered: Were they coming back?” Kirkland admitted.
She also recalls witnessing scientists at Mission Control Centre lose Apollo 11 for nearly two hours as the spacecraft made its way around the moon.
“This is Houston, where all you Apollo? Answer me!” Kirkland recounted them shouting.
Eventually, radio connection was restored to the spacecraft and a huge sigh of relief travelled through scientist dispatchers at mission control as an astronaut replied: “Apollo 11 to mission control.”
Thanks to her years with NASA, to this day Kirkland still possesses a vast collection of original signed photographs from all types of launches.
The Aldergrove Fair plans to host a “Moonland” exhibit where Kirkland will unveil these photographs, their original signatures, and share tidbits about her “personal friendships and experiences at NASA,” explained fair organizer Mike Robinson.
The themed-installment will also boast an Apollo 11 model, delectable moon pies, the fair’s mascot Aldy in all of his astronaut doll glory and interactive science experiments relating to space.
One such experiment includes the growth of “moon food,” or radishes from inside a simple soda bottle, said Robinson, which Fair volunteers hope to demonstrate to the public.