First Man on the Moon
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish." President John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961.
The greatest achievement of mankind was realized July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. The moon had been stared at through all human history with wonder. Abundant folklore about the moon existed in every culture on Earth. I was one of perhaps a half a billion persons who witnessed the moon landing of Apollo 11 on television. It remains the most exciting event I have ever witnessed.
This project involved enormous risks. The rockets NASA used were well known for blowing up on or just off the launch pad. The astronauts who volunteered, and were selected, to take part in the Apollo missions were fearless men who thrived on excitement and challenges. Neil Armstrong was considered the best of the best. That is why he was the first human being to walk on the moon.
The astronauts were deeply involved in the design and engineering of the Apollo spacecraft. This is a business of the perfection of the complex. They would blast off atop a 300 foot tall rocket to travel 240,000 miles to the moon—and back. Their reentry into the Earth's atmosphere was at 26,000 miles per hour—13 times the speed of a bullet. And the capsule in which they rode would heat up as hot as the sun. The only person who communicates directly with the astronauts (Capsule Communicator) is himself an astronaut.
A Rocket to the Moon
America needed some good news in 1969. The country was torn apart by the Vietnam War, and race riots. President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King had all been assassinated in the 1960s. Apollo I had met disaster when Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire on the launch pad.
Man on the Moon
It is lonely out there on the launch pad. Everyone besides the astronauts stays 3 1/2 miles away because of the danger. The rocket is like a big pencil, and the engines have to use gimbals to keep from falling over at liftoff, producing incredible vibrations for the machine and the crews.
Apollo 1A, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 were unmanned flights to test the rockets, command module, and lunar module. Apollo 7 was a manned mission for similar purposes.
Man on Moon
Apollo 8 carried the first men ever into deep space, and to the moon—but with no lunar landing. That crew spent Christmas Day 1968 orbiting the moon 60 miles up from its surface. These were the first men to ever see the Earth as it is: a tiny sphere, an oasis, teeming with life and color; in the midst of an immense blackness that is utterly hostile to life. The men sent a message back to the peoples of the Earth, quoting the Book of Genesis from the Holy Bible. Here are their words to humanity:
William Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."
Jim Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."
Frank Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."
Naturally, they were sued for saying these words by an Atheist; but the suit was dismissed by the United States Supreme Court.
Apollo 9 was a manned mission in Earth orbit to test docking of the lunar module. Apollo 10 was the 2nd mission to the moon. They did not land, but orbited at only 8 miles above the moon; and sent the lunar module into orbit to ensure it could successfully rendezvous back with the command module in that environment. Now we were ready for the big one.
Apollo 11 Crew
The Apollo 11 crew was comprised of Neil Armstrong, a cool customer and the most skilled of all astronauts; Buzz Aldrin, a technical wizard and the second man to walk on the moon; and Michael Collins, a humorous man who had to stay alone in the orbiting command module and did not get to land on the moon. All three men were lucky enough to be born in 1930. Collins said he was not lonely but that he felt only exaltation orbiting the moon alone.
In the lunar module, named the Eagle (nicknamed the Golden Bug), the men were one inch from certain death. That is how thin was the skin of that craft. They made it to the surface of the moon and Neil Armstrong said, "The Eagle has landed." The moon looked scary, but at the same time a spectacularly beautiful desert, with a surface dusted with powder. Armstrong stepped on the moon and said, "That's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind."
And there was joy all around the world. After returning to Earth the astronauts embarked on a worldwide tour and said that around the globe they kept hearing people from all nations say, "We did it!" Not you did it. We did it. It was an event that enthralled and united the world.
But first, the lunar module had to get off the moon after leaving behind a plaque and an American flag; and collecting moon rocks and dust for scientists on Earth to study. The room at Mission Control was dead silent as the lunar module lifted off. They were so low on fuel, that President Nixon filmed a speech, written by William Safire, just in case they didn't make it back:
"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
"These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
"In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
"Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
"For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."
First Man on the Moon
Apollo 11 did make it back to Earth, and splashed down in the beautiful violet sea. America would go back to the moon six more times over the next few years—and men would walk on it five more times. The exception was Apollo 13, which suffered a quadruple failure of its oxygen supply, fuel cells, water supply and electricity—a multitude of catastrophic systems failures deemed impossible at first by Mission Control. It was a miracle Apollo 13 was not lost forever in the cold void of space. People all over the world prayed for their safe return.
Only 24 men have ever viewed the Earth from deep space. We have not been to the moon since December 7th, 1972. The last man to walk on it, Gene Cernan, said, " “I stood in the blue darkness and looked in awe at the Earth from the lunar surface. What I saw was almost too beautiful to grasp. There has to be a creator of the universe.”