DATE OF EVENT: Sunday, July 20, 1969
DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, July 21, 1969, in The Kansas City Times
Houston — Two American astronauts stepped onto the moon last night — a place of “magnificent desolation” — and gave America and the world the most dramatic television show in the history of mankind.
Edwin E. Aldrin described the Earth’s nearest neighbor as bleak and desolate as he followed Apollo 11 commander, Neil A. Armstrong, to the lunar surface, which they called “fine grained and almost like a powder.”
With an automatic television camera focused on them, Armstrong and Aldrin, leaning forward to offset the weight of their life-sustaining backpacks, moved about the lunar module, called Eagle, like eerie shadows — first in slow, deliberate fashion, then, to show the effect of the moon’s weak gravity, sprung about like kangaroos.
Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said as he placed his foot down: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
About 30 minutes after Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the surface, and after they had erected the American flag — held outright in the airless surface with spring-mounted supports — they got a telephone message from President Richard M. Nixon. It was transmitted from the Oval room at the White House through the NASA radio network.
President Nixon said:
“Hello, Neil and Buzz … I can’t tell you how proud we all are … For every American, this has got to be the proudest day of our lives … Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world.” The President said the lunar landing by Armstrong and Aldrin had united the world as never before, in pride in their achievement and in prayers for their safety.
“Thank you, Mr. President,” Armstrong said. “It is a great honor to be here, not only in representing the United States, but the world.”
“We look forward to seeing you on the Hornet Thursday,” Nixon said. (The USS Hornet is the recovery ship.) “We look forward to that very much, sir,” Armstrong replied.
After that brief exchange, interrupted occasionally by radio feedback in the transmission, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to their tasks, mainly collecting rock and soil samples and deploying instrument packaging.
Armstrong’s first step onto the moon occurred at 9:54 o’clock (Kansas City time). Silhouetted against the stark lunar whiteness, Armstrong stretched his left leg toward the surface, then jerked it back up.
“That last step is a long one,” he explained, adding later that the ladder was about 3 feet above the surface and that the Eagle had not sunk into the moon as deeply as expected.
“I can kick it (the moon’s soil) up loosely with my toe,” Armstrong said. “It is like powdered charcoal. I can see the footprints of my shoe tread … I seem to have no difficulty in moving around … as we suspected, it’s easier moving than in the one-sixth g (gravity) simulation we performed on earth.”
To demonstrate how easily he could move on the moon, Armstrong seemingly raced across the screen, in bouncy, ballet-like steps, then turned and raced toward the camera. Equally at home on the surface was Aldrin, who, when finding himself at the bottom of the ladder, jumped up and down.
Armstrong and Aldrin explored the moon for more than two hours.
The astronauts returned to their landing module at 12:11 o’clock.
But before they ended their brief venture to another world, they took millions of television viewers on an odyssey unlike any in the annals of mankind. A television camera, mounted outside Eagle, photographed the two bulky-suited astronauts as they installed three instrument packages and collected the soil and rock samples.
That gait was the result of their pressurized suits, but being on the moon in the first place was the result of courage and faith on their part, and the amassing of a nation’s resources to meet a challenge, to reach a goal, to realize a dream.
The halfway mark to realizing that dream occurred yesterday afternoon when the lunar module landed, under the control of Armstrong’s deft hands for the final few hundred feet.
Eagle landed at 3:17:42 o’clock (Kansas City time).
Watching and listening as the fragile craft started its descent from 50,000 feet above the lunar surface was an audience estimated in the hundreds of millions.
Armstrong was calm as he ticked off the readings from his instruments.
He had used those same instruments earlier in the first burn of Eagle’s descent engine, a burn which shifted the craft out of a 60-mile-high orbit it had shared with Michael Collins in the Columbia, the command module.
The first burn changed Eagle’s orbit to an exaggerated elliptical path with a high point, or apolune, of 65.6 miles and a low point, or perilune, of 9.8 miles.
The first burn was made on the backside of the moon, out of communications with Mission Control. At that point the computer on Eagle started the automated landing sequence.
That sequence began with the refiring of the descent engine for almost 12 minutes, starting soon after 3 o’clock.
At that point, Eagle was at 50,000 feet and about 14 degrees uprange from the second landing site.
Since the powered descent of Eagle put it into a lower and slower orbit than the Columbia, Collins was the first to return to radio contact with Mission Control as Columbia slipped from behind the moon at 2:44. Eagle reappeared from behind the moon two minutes later. Its rocket was firing, dropping it closer and closer to the moon below.
At 47,000 feet, Armstrong reported fluctuation in the alternate voltage current.
Seconds later, he said of Eagle:
“I think it’s gonna drop.” At 40,000 feet, Mission Control told Eagle it was “go” for powered descent.
At that point several alarm lights came on in Mission control. They came on once and did not reappear. It was later explained that the computers were receiving and processing so much information that they automatically recycled themselves and started their tasks over.
Readings of data at this point indicated Eagle was on its intended trajectory. Dr. Charles Berry, the astronauts’ doctor, was getting readings that Armstrong’s heart rate had increased to 156 beats per minute. Because of the limited space on the Eagle, only one pilot was hooked up for readings.
At 25,000 feet above the lunar surface, Armstrong started to throttle down on the descent engine, slowing both his descent rate and his forward rate. The computer on board Eagle was assisting his manual control of the craft.
At 3,000 feet, Mission Control told Armstrong and Aldrin that they were “go” for landing.
Eagle and its 2-man crew continued down — 2,000 feet, 1,600, 750, 540, 150, 100, 75, 60.
At 40 feet, the blast from the descent engine kicked up dust from the surface of the moon.
“Drifting to the right a little,” Armstrong said. Then: “Contact, light.” That referred to the 5-foot-long probes on the ends of three of the four legs of Eagle which activated a panel light inside the module on touching the lunar surface.
“Okay, engine stop. A. C. A. out of detent. Modes control both auto, descent engine command override off. Engine arm off.
“Houston, Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again.”
Inside Mission Control, there was cheering. Gene Krantz, a flight controller, keyed his microphone and told the other controllers: “Knock it off, we’ve still got work to do.” Sixty-nine miles above the lunar surface, Michael Collins frantically asked to hear the transmission of the landing. A tape was played to him immediately after Eagle set down.
“I heard the whole thing,” Collins said. “Fantastic!” That was the only superlative of the afternoon.
Eagle landed west of the second landing site and about 4 miles north.
Armstrong radioed that the auto targeting device aboard the spacecraft took the spacecraft into a crater the size of a football field with large rocks and boulders in it.