As I said last week, my focus for the next couple of columns is on the 50th anniversary of arguably the greatest achievement of my generation, the Apollo 11 moon landing.
This week marks the historic feat with yesterday (Tuesday) being the anniversary of the launch itself, which took place at 8:32 a.m. from Launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Excursion Module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and command module pilot Mike Collins were strapped in a relatively tiny capsule sitting atop a 365-foot tall Saturn V rocket. Along with them was the lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, that would just four days later, settle into it’s new home in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon’s desolate surface.
With the three modern-day explorers aboard, the Saturn V launched and just a few hours later they were on their way along the 365,000 mile journey that would, for a short time, unite the world as they watched the mission unfold in awe.
I remember, as a 9-year-old space junkie with summer days filled with dreams, desires and concern as I watched television coverage of the launch, the activities of the flight to the moon and finally the day the crew reached lunar orbit.
I listened intently as the moments until the landing grew nearer and nearer. I still remember my heart racing as I listened to the radio communications between the crew and the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston mixed with commentary from Walter Cronkite of CBS News.
As Armstrong and Aldrin made their powered decent to the lunar surface, I remember not moving, but only for a few brief seconds as I shifted in anticipation of what was about to happen.
When the final “go” was given by flight director Gene Krantz to land, it was as if all of the imagination and wishful thinking I had carried to the day — July 20, 1969 — was coming to fruition. I was finally able to see what my mind had created as I watched and listened intently.
Finally, almost as if things could get any more intense, the capsule communicator in Houston, Charlie Duke, called out the amount of fuel remaining. “Sixty seconds,” followed by Aldrin giving readings and information to both Houston and his comrade Armstrong. “Thirty seconds,” the communications continued between crew members.
Finally, with just a few seconds of fuel remaining before they would have to abort the landing, Aldrin told Armstrong, “Contact light” which meant the thin, long blades which hung off the bottom of the LEM’s landing pads had pierced the moon, followed by what NASA called “the post-landing checklist” and then the second-most famous words uttered that day, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”
Duke replied, “Roger Twan ... Tranquility. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.”
It was a few hours later the two men made even more significant history when Armstrong crawled out the doors of the spider-looking LEM and moved down the ladder to where he finally said the most famous words from that day and likely many more days to come.
“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
More next week.
Rick Curl is a reporter with The Daily Record. He can be reached at 910-230-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.