(July 16-21, 1969)
It started with a boom.
“Reaching for a dream, America’s Apollo 11 astronauts hurtled across the vastness of space today on a voyage of the ages, an attempt to land two men on the moon,” the Associated Press reported.
But nothing was assured.
“The astronauts go to the moon as men of peace, bearing the flags and messages of many lands,” the story continued. “They may not make it. For Apollo 11 is not only man’s most ambitious space adventure, but also the most dangerous. The astronauts and space officials warned in advance that the flight might have to be aborted at any time, even up to the moment of lunar touchdown.
“And if the two astronauts do land, there is a remote chance they could be stranded on the moon, with only two days of oxygen and no chance of rescue.”
Vice President Spiro Agnew, meanwhile, already had his eyes on Mars.
“I think, we shouldn’t be too timid to say by the end of this century we’re going to put a man on Mars,” Agnew said at the Apollo 11 launching. “That’s my judgment. I’m sure the way science has developed in the last 50 years, we’ll have the capability.”
In Atlanta, jeweler Ben Hyman wired NASA for permission to buy moon rocks.
“It would be a marvelous souvenir of man’s trip to another planet,” Hyman said.
He told the AP he offered NASA $5,000 a pound for material brought back from the moon, and that all profits would be donated to the city of Atlanta for civic improvement projects.
The News’ editors reflected on this space travel and heralded a new age.
“There will be more moon landings after Apollo 11 and, eventually, scientific colonies,” the editors stated. “There will be even more difficult voyages, including, probably before the century is out, a manned landing on Mars. We are only at the dawn of the space age and the fantastically complicated Apollo 11 will someday be considered as primitive as the Wright brothers’ first airplane. But no space spectacular will ever equal it.
“We are all eyewitnesses to an unparalleled event in human history — anxious, hoping, praying eyewitnesses, but supremely confident in our three Columbuses of space and immensely proud of them.”
Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union’s Luna 15 probe went into orbit around the moon the same day as the Apollo launch. Sir Bernard Lovell at the Jordell Bank observatory in the United Kingdom reported the craft’s elliptical orbit was around two hours long, putting it 600-1,200 miles above the moon, and that it was sending back to Earth “heaps” of data.
He surmised the Soviets planned to land the probe on the moon to steal a bit of Apollo 11’s notoriety.
The moon landing happened July 20, but then as now, The News doesn’t publish on Sundays, now matter what historic event.
In Monday’s edition, the AP’s Howard Benedict recounted the experience.
“Through the magic of television, an estimated 500 million people around the world had a ringside seat to man’s greatest adventure,” Benedict wrote. “It was unforgettable. (Neil) Armstrong climbed through the (lunar module) hatch and started backing down a nine-rung ladder. In the second rung from the bottom, he opened a compartment, exposing a television camera.
“The picture was black and white and somewhat jerky, but it recorded history. Among scientists, there was elation that the crew had landed in an area with a variety of rocks, a treasure that held at least the hope of a rich payoff in the search to learn more about moon and Earth.”
Over in Alabama, a whole mess of sportswriters, broadcasters and coaches gathered at Alabama football coach Bear Bryant’s lake house to watch the event.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen,” Bryant said, according to AP writer Hoyt Harwell.
The story continued, “Bryant once asked for quiet, turned the volume up on the television set and said, ‘You fellows might get to see this again, but this might be the only chance for the old man to see it.’
“At two minutes before Armstrong stepped from the Eagle lunar lander onto the moon, Bryant said, ‘I’ve never been more nervous in my life, I’m sweating all over. This is a helluva thing, isn’t it? It’s hard to visualize. This is unbelievable.’”
Most everyone took off after about an hour, but Bryant stuck with the TV broadcast.
“I’m going to see it all,” Bryant said. “I’m going to stay right here and not miss anything. This is history.”
Of course, he also reflected that there probably weren’t more people in Alabama watching the moon landing than watched tape-delay broadcasts of the Iron Bowl.