PHOENIX - Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 took off on humanity’s first-ever moon landing mission.
Millions of people around the world watched on live television as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins catapulted toward the moon, and a Valley woman had a front-row seat for it all.
“We have lift-off." With those iconic words, millions of Americans watched as three astronauts catapulted towards space, and Nancy Coenen-Christensen, then a sophomore at LSU, was one of them. Coenen-Christensen can remember July 16, 1969, like it was yesterday.
“I was sitting in the VIP section next to former President Lyndon Johnson, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Roy and Walt Disney and of course government officials,” said Coenen-Christensen
Her father’s job came with perks. Francis Coenen, known to his colleagues as Bud, was directing the space mission for the Apollo 11.
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“To me, when I was growing up, my father was just my father, but now to know he was such a part of history that’s continuing…for me I can almost cry, “ said Coenen-Christensen
Bud Coenen was responsible for testing rockets, coordinating the Apollo 11 mission and making sure Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would ultimately walk on the moon. For his grace under pressure, Bud earned a nickname.
“They called him Mr. Unflappable. Nothing would bother him,” said Coenen-Christensen.
On that historic day 50 years ago, when the rocket made it into space, Nancy said her father, who was 47 at the time, was beaming with pride.
“He showed a lot of emotion. He was very elated. Later that night they had a party to honor my dad and he received the NASA highest civilian award,” said Coenen-Christensen.
Bud Coenen passed away in 1989, but not before being a part of 20 Nasa missions, including every one from Apollo 6 through 17.
Now Nancy speaks around the country, talking about her father’s contributions to the space mission and what he would have hoped for the future.
“My father would be so disappointed that we haven’t gotten to Mars yet. So yes, we definitely get back to the moon and get to mars. Some people think it’s a waste of money, but it’s definitely not. “
After his days with NASA, Bud Coenen worked with the Boeing company where he started. He would go onto consult for NASA for years to come.