On July 20, 1969, the world collectively held its breath as astronaut Neil A. Armstrong slowly backed out of the Lunar Module Eagle and cautiously climbed down a nine-rung ladder before stepping foot on the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were Armstrong’s now immortalized words.
Just four decades earlier, Charles Lindbergh made history when he flew the Spirit of St. Louis 3,600 miles across the Atlantic. Stunning advances in aviation technology followed. In 1962, amidst the Cold War and Space Race, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “We choose to go to the moon!”
That goal became a reality when on July 16, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins strapped into Apollo 11 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Apollo 11 was a 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket containing the Command Module Columbia that housed the astronauts; a Service Module; and the Lunar Module Eagle. At 9:32 a.m. the rocket blasted off for a 240,000-mile journey that would bring them into a lunar orbit by July 19th. On July 20th, Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to the Eagle and descended to the surface of the moon. Collins remained in lunar orbit manning Columbia.
“The Eagle has landed,” proclaimed Armstrong as an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million watched the landing. The call sign for Eagle immediately changed to Tranquility Baseonce the lunar module touched down.
Armstrong was first to the lunar surface, joined by Aldrin a short time later. The astronauts spent about two hours accomplishing a series of tasks including collecting samples, taking photographs and planting an American flag before entering back into the lunar module to sleep. After a rest period, and more than 21 hours on the surface of the moon, they returned to Columbia for the journey home.
With all three astronauts safely reunited in Columbia, the crew maneuvered into a trajectory that would return them to earth. On July 24, 1969, the USS Hornet which had been practicing recovery efforts for weeks off the coast of Hawaii moved into position to recover the crew of Apollo 11 after splashdown in the Pacific. On board the Hornet, all eyes scanned the horizon anxiously. Just before 7:00 a.m. (Hawaii time), Columbia splashed down in relatively calm seas. A smoking marine marker was dropped to mark the location and Navy swimmers jumped from a helicopter to attach inflatable flotation collars to the capsule. The astronauts were loaded in a raft, transferred to a basket, and hoisted up to the helicopter. The astronauts and crew members donned clean biological isolation garments in case the astronauts were contaminated with biological hazards.
Back on the Hornet, a cheering crowd that included President Richard Nixon, greeted the returning astronauts. They were ushered into a mobile quarantine facility where President Nixon congratulated them through a window as the three smiling astronauts peered out from behind the glass. Where were you the day men walked on the moon? If you would like to see more of the headlines and stories from the historic Apollo 11 mission, search Newspapers.com today!
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