Do you recall where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took that historic step?
Maybe you do, or then again, maybe you weren’t even born yet. But it was most definitely the end of an age-old dream; science fiction comes true. And July 20 will mark the 50th anniversary of that event.
The Russians stunned the world when, on Oct. 4, 1957, they successfully put a man-made satellite, Sputnik into orbit 588 miles above the earth. It made one rotation every 96 minutes and could be seen with the naked eye at night, streaking quickly across the sky. This reporter remembers seeing that a time or two.
Sputnik greatly hurt Americans’ pride because they were not the first ones to do it.
Then, in April 1961, the Soviet Union scored another triumph, becoming the first to put a man in space. Col. Yuri Gagarin made one orbit before returning to earth.
This spurred President John Kennedy to pledge $25 billion to boost U.S. technology and promise that the U.S. would put a man on the moon and return him safely before the end of the 1960’s.
Kennedy didn’t live to see the dream realized, but millions others worldwide did.Watching as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on July 16 with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong aboard, touched down on the moon at 1:17 p.m. PDT July 20.
Armstrong radioed back to mission control in Houston, “Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”
About six hours later, Armstrong left the lunar module, climbed down the ladder and stepped onto the surface of the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Where were you? This reporter remembers being at home with his mother and sister, watching the event on live TV while standing on the front porch of the house and looking up at the moon, not fully able to grasp the totality of the incredible event taking place.
Aldrin later joined Armstrong on the moon. The two walked around for about two and a half hours, sometimes looking like they were bounding as they were getting used to the moon’s lighter gravity, about six times less than Earth’s. They even planted an American flag and saluted.
The astronauts collected about 47 pounds of lunar rocks and other materials to bring back with them. Every traveler likes souvenirs.
Then they blasted off in the return vehicle to join Michael Collins, who had been orbiting the moon alone in Apollo’s main ship, Columbia and all made the return trip to Earth, fulfilling Kennedy’s 1961 pledge.
Five additional moon landings would follow, but only for three more years. All in all, a dozen astronauts would set foot on the moon, three astronauts twice. The last manned landing was in December of 1972.
Someone said, “After we discovered the moon was not made of green cheese, we haven’t been back since.”
July 20, 1969. What sort of a day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times.