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Race to the Moon | Article

Astronaut Families

All three crew members had children who experienced the race to the moon from the inside. They were asked endless questions, posed for photo sessions, tolerated the reporters who set up for business outside their homes, and shared the mixed blessing of growing up in a famous father's shadow.

What was it like to grow up in an astronaut's family? Read these questions and answers to find out.

Apollo 8 lunar module pilot William Anders poses with his wife, Valerie, and children (clockwise from top: Greg, Alan, Gayle and Eric) at their home, December 19, 1968. NASA Kennedy Space Center.

How old were you at the time of the Apollo 8 mission? What do you remember?
Fred Borman:
 I was 17 at the time. It's hard for people to believe, but my brother and I were pretty much allowed to be normal teenage kids. My focus was playing high school football. We grew up in the Houston area, so NASA was huge. Being an astronaut was just what my dad did.

Gayle Anders Nuffer: I was in second grade. I remember that we did not go to the Cape to watch the launch. I found out later it was because, #1, they could not afford it (money was always tight with five kids and a military salary) and, #2, my dad did not want us all out in the grand stands in case the rocket exploded during the launch. How could my mother comfort five children if that were to happen? The big deal was that we got a new color TV to watch the launch!

Jay Lovell: I was twelve years old. I remember being in Florida. We were in the VIP area; there was a grandstand, I remember that, and the big clock ticking down. There's one photo of us, standing there together watching it take off. You're about three miles away -- you get the rumbling, the shaking of the ground. The Saturn V, that is one powerful rocket taking off.

Edwin Borman: I was in tenth grade. I didn't know much about my father's job, to be honest with you. He was just going to work, and he was gone a lot. I knew there were dangers and risks, but they were always training, and they were always upbeat, and they never showed their fears.

Astronaut Frank Borman poses with his wife, Susan, and sons, Frederick (left) and Edwin. NASA Kennedy Space Center

Did you listen to the mission on the "squawk box"?
Fred Borman:
 Listening to the mission on the squawk box, we were excited. It was obviously a big deal. We couldn't move because the press was all over the place. We understood the magnitude of it, and we were proud of what was going on -- and happy that everything worked out.

Jay Lovell: I thought the squawk box was cool. You could sit there for hours and just listen. It was a direct link between NASA and them in space. Whatever was said was going through. It was always on. It was basically like listening to a radio show, a drama or a mystery show. Of course, unless you knew the jargon you were totally lost. Everything at NASA was abbreviated. That's just how they talked.

Edwin Borman: During the mission, the main thing I remember was climbing over the back fence to get away from all the reporters, so I could go hunting with my buddies. It was a pain. The squawk box was there, but I didn't pay any attention to it. I tried to avoid everything.

Did you ever visit your father's office?
Edwin Borman:
 We used to go to NASA. I went to their gym and played sports, and their medical facility. But it was a closed facility. I never saw the rockets.

Jay Lovell: My father always worked late at night, and sometimes he'd take me to the office with him after dinner -- to get me out of my mom's hair, I think. One night he stuck me into the LEM [Lunar Excursion Module] Simulator. He's got the headphones on me, he's telling me which numbers to punch, I get all excited -- and I hit the wrong number. I crashed on the moon!

What was it like being a part of the NASA community?
Gayle Anders Nuffer:
 I thought that most fathers were astronaughts because the next-door neighbor was an astronaut and the people that lived behind us, their dad was an astronaut, too. It did not really sink in until we had moved to D.C. and I began to understand the world was a bigger place than El Lago, Texas.

Jay Lovell: NASA took good care of the families. I had a waterskiing accident -- I hit a log in the lake, and the rope wrapped around my upper arm, and I got a huge burn. It was nasty. Our house was on a canal -- my sister was in the front of the boat screaming at me. When my mom saw me she threw me in the car and took me to NASA. She drove so fast we blew past the security guard. People were waiting when we arrived, and they rushed me in and started to patch me up. They took real good care of you.

Edwin Borman: You look back at the technology that we had at the time to put a man on the moon, and it's only a fraction of what we have now. It took so many people back then: the engineers, the mathematicians, the doctors, the contractors, and all the subcontractors.

Fred Borman: I think it was just amazing, the whole community effort. Everyone was totally focused and behind it. The three astronauts were the ones who got all the notoriety, but there were thousands and thousands of people who made it happen.

Glen Anders: We trusted our father, Air Force, NASA, and would be quick to fight anyone who might suggest that there was anything to worry about.

Astronaught James Lovell's wife Marilyn Lovell, with three of her children watch as Jim Lovell launches into space on Apollo 8. NASA Kennedy Space Center.

How did you feel when the media showed up on your doorsteps?
Jay Lovell:
 We had our own paparazzi. Being kids, we went out and had fun with them. I got in a fight in the front yard with some other kid, and the next morning it was in the Houston Chronicle: "Son Protects Home While Dad's in Space." My mom dragged me into the laundry room and said, "What is this?"

Gayle Anders Nuffer: I remember Life magazine taking our family pictures. We would all eat ice cream around the table or my dad pushed me on the swing. I remember thinking that this was a bit odd because we never really did that in real life. We did have family meals and we did things as a family (church, water ski) but not that often because my dad was either working at NASA or in his den at home, flying or doing yard work.

Eric Anders: I was the youngest at the time. I have memories of running outside when the press was milling around our driveway right before the launch. A picture of me smiling and with my thumb up ended up on the front page of some major newspapers with a caption something like, "Astronaut's Son Gives Apollo 8 the Thumbs-Up." The story I heard later was that I had been sucking my thumb, and then pulled it out when I was approached by all the reporters. A camera caught my thumb on the way down. I dispute this, of course.

Today, how do you look at your father's accomplishments? What do you think when you look at the moon?
Edwin Borman:
 I think it's pretty amazing. When you look back at the Cold War, and realizing it was a race — this was one of the programs that helped us tear down the wall.

Jay Lovell: My dad's nickname was Golden Fingers, because in the Apollo capsule, you have to do your math, put your numbers in for navigation. My understanding is that he was faster than the computer. My dad's the only man who's been to the moon twice. Apollo 13 also has the highest altitude record. Things like that are cool, and what's even cooler is when your kids look in their history books and see granddad.

Fred Borman: When I look at the moon and the stars, I think without God none of this would be possible.

Gayle Anders Nuffer: My dad's career is so impressive. I read his bio and it still amazes me, but the truth is he could not have done it without my mother. Not only did she support him in his career with dinner parties, Sunday brunches (they were always entertaining -- today we would call it networking), she ran the household and it was always clean, organized and with good food on the table.

Anything else you recall about the race to the moon?
Eric Anders:
 Even at four, I think I had a strong sense that my mother had to hold a lot in. Later I would learn that that was standard operations for fighter pilots' wives at the time -- especially given how so many pilots of supersonic jets were dying due to how dangerous those planes were then.

Gayle Anders Nuffer: My sister Diana was the first baby born after a man went into space. They told them the radiation might make them sterile. I was delighted, of course, to have a sister since I was the only girl. My brother, Glen, thought of the name Diana: goddess of the moon.

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