Fifty years after the first men landed on the moon, newspaper clippings about the American triumph are yellowed, and the archived black-and-white newscasts are a sharp contrast to the high-definition world of today.

Still, the artifacts have a way of bringing folks back to 1969, when in July the country was captivated by the Apollo 11 mission.

During the voyage for the ages, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins soared where no one had before. They earned the nickname "Columbuses of the space age," and the stature of heroes.

"My dad's heroes were cowboys," said retired Derry historian Richard Holmes, now 73. "My heroes were astronauts," 

Driving home from watching the televised first steps on the moon at a family member's house — about 11 p.m. on July 20, 1969 — Holmes, in his 20s at the time, made sure to turn his gaze up for a moment.

"Just amazement. What a piece of work," he recalled in a conversation about the upcoming 50th anniversary of that moment.

"As a non-scientist, I cannot appreciate the skill it took to put a man on the moon, nor could I appreciate the bravery it took for a man to go on the moon. I was scared out of my wits because I knew in two to three months I'd be in Vietnam (serving in the Army)," he said. "That pales in comparison to what they must have been feeling."

That same night, Richard D'Agostino, now 65, was a sophomore at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence. He stayed up late to watch from his living room.

He was surrounded by his family, who applauded and whooped when Armstrong didn't fall through the surface of the moon as some had suspected might happen, he said.

The unknown and hopefulness were plentiful.

At 15, D'Agostino wanted to be an astronaut, but grew up instead to be an attorney. He currently serves as Methuen's solicitor.

"I wish the country today was as unified in patriotism and pride of American achievement as they were then," he said. "I fear I'll never see that again."

He's grateful for growing up during the era he did, he said, including during the space race, the 20th century competition between the United States and Russia to achieve firsts beyond the Earth's surface.

Right after the monumental American success on the moon, a smiling and bright-eyed D'Agostino was photographed for an edition of The Eagle-Tribune, a sister newspaper to the Derry News, which ran Monday, July 21, 1969. He's holding a model spaceship bearing a handwritten sign — "Good luck Apollo XI."

D'Agostino reminisced this week about meeting a reporter for the photo opportunity in front of the Chestnut Street building where his family lived in Lawrence.

"I put (the model spacecraft) on the small roof that was over the entrance to the tenement house we lived in," he said. "Folks driving by saw it and someone called the newspaper."

His fascination with space travel is rooted in patriotism, he explained. His father fought under General George Patton during World War II, something that he always admired.

"(The moon landing) united the country. You never heard criticism about it," D'Agostino said. "Everyone was behind the success of it. (The astronauts) were the true adventurers. They were true patriots."

Experts in the field of astronomy agree, also noting that other-worldly expeditions have a way of mitigating problems that exist close to home.

"It's been 50 years since we've walked on the moon. I think for a short time it brought the world together at a time when we really needed it," said John Gianforte, director of the University of New Hampshire's observatory and an astronomy instructor. "I think most people would agree now that we need some unifying projects to work on as a species to help eliminate the perceived differences between other countries, races, communities."

He was 12 when Apollo 11 made history. He was already on the path to being a scientist.

"But this really gave some legitimacy in that you could do stuff like this," he said. "It really solidified my goals and objectives."

His UNH colleague, Nathan Schwardon, would like to see history repeat itself in terms of leaps and bounds into space.

"I view that period of history in the United States as being a time in which we were extremely bold and ambitions," he said. "We basically didn't take no for an answer. We have to get back to that. We are capable of achieving absolutely anything. We demonstrated it once and we can do it again."

 

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