Where were you when men first walked on the moon? I was 10 years old, velcroed to the color TV in the living room of our home in Richfield, a cheap telescope at my side, watching Walter Cronkite describe the historic scene. The Minneapolis Tribune’s staff-written account of the landing and moonwalk, posted here, is impressive for its clarity, detail and restraint. The cluttered front page, alas, is remarkable only for its failure to capture the drama of the event.
|Click on the image to view the full front page.
Two U.S. Astronauts Walk on the Moon
After Piloting Craft to a Smooth Landing
By JACK WILSON and LEWIS COPE
Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writers
HOUSTON, Texas – Neil Armstrong thrust his boot into a thin layer of fine dust beside his spacecraft at 9:55 p.m. (Minneapolis time) Sunday and became the first man ever to set foot on the moon.
Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin had landed their craft gently in the moon’s Sea of Tranquillity at 3:17 p.m. after maneuvering at the last minute to avoid a “football-field size crater with a large number of big boulders and rocks” around it.
Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the lunar surface were a simple report of what it was like: “The surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up with my toe.
“It does adhere like powdered charcoal to my boots. My feet only go in about an eight of an inch and I can’t see footprints here where I have walked.”
In those few words the Apollo 11 astronaut ended thousands of years of speculation and guesswork and shattered many scientific theories about the moon.
Aldrin reentered the landing module at midnight, and Armstrong followed at 12:11 this morning.
At one time astronomers were fearful that a spaceship would disappear in hundreds of yards of fine dust on the moon.
||If you squint, you can see the reflection of photographer Neil Armstrong next to the landing module reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s face shield. (NASA photo)
THE MOON walk, in which Aldrin joined Armstrong at 10:15 p.m., actually began at 9:51 p.m.
At that time, Armstrong radioed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) control center here: “OK, I’m on the porch.”
The porch is the small metal platform in front of the entrance hatch of the lunar module, the Eagle, in which Armstrong and Aldrin had descended from lunar orbit.
There was a long wait, half an hour or more, after the two astronauts had donned their portable life-support systems (space suits and back packs) and were ready to leave the spacecraft.
THE DELAY was caused by slower than expected depressurization of the lunar module cabin. Armstrong finally solved the problem by opening the hatch before the pressure was gone entirely.
He backed out through the hatch under Aldrin’s guidance, like a big truck maneuvering delicately backward down a narrow alley.
At the second step of the nine-step descent ladder, Armstrong paused and pulled a ring activating a television camera, which was focused on him as he descended. He went down very slowly, and once went back up a step, apparently when one of the rungs bent under his weight.
He said it was not bent enough to interfere with getting back up.
AT THE FOOT of the ladder before stepping on the moon, he stood on the big pan-like landing foot and looked around.
“The LEM (landing module) footpads are only depressed in the surface one or two inches,” he said. “The surface appears to be very fine-grained as you get close to it, like powder.”
“I’m going to step off the LEM now.
“One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said.
He moved slowly, holding on at first to the leg of the landing vehicle, but gradually moved out and appeared to be moving easily.
“IT HAS A beauty all its own,” Armstrong said as he looked around at the gently rolling surface.
When Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface he looked out and said, “It’s magnificent!”
After Armstrong described the powdery surface dust, Aldrin made his own scientific contribution.
“Neil, didn’t I say we might see purple rocks here?” he said.
“You find a purple rock?” Armstrong said.
“Yeh,” said Aldrin. “It’s in very small fragments. I’d guess it might be viotite.”
The astronauts moved the small black and white television camera from its mounting on the space craft out to a tripod 30 or 40 feet from the vehicle, and set it up so viewers on earth could see them as they moved about.
THEY MOVED like deep sea divers, leaning forward on the heavy back packs that contained breathing oxygen, water to cool their tube-lined underwear and communications gear. The packs weigh about 120 pounds on earth. In the light lunar gravity they weighed about 20 pounds.
“You have to be careful to lean in the direction you want to go,” Armstrong said after his few tentative steps.
Soon after both men reached the surface Aldrin said, “Neil is now going to unveil the plaque.” This is a small metal plate attached to one of the landing legs of the descent vehicle, which will be left behind when the men leave the moon.
ARMSTRONG then read the plaque:
“Here men from the planet earth first stepped foot upon the moon, July, 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
It was signed by the three astronauts and by President Nixon.
The men also erected a U.S. flag on a pole to be left standing on the moon.
They carried small flags of 136 nations, all 50 of the states in the United States, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. possessions. These will be brought back and presented to the appropriate persons after the mission. Another U.S. flag also will be brought back for the Congress and another flag for the United Nations.
After adjusting the television camera, the men set up the solar wind experiment, a piece of aluminum foil suspended on a pole to collect subatomic particles streaming out from the sun. It is to be brought back for analysis on earth.
IT WAS at this point that the two lunar explorers received a telephone call from President Nixon, who had followed the descent of their spacecraft intently, in company with astronaut Frank Borman, in the White House.
The astronauts carried two principal scientific experiments on the moon.
One was a laser reflector, a special set of mirrors to reflect laser light beams aimed at the device from anywhere on earth. By measuring the time required for the beam to reach the moon and bounce back, scientists hope to determine among other things precisely how far away the moon is.
||Buzz Aldrin had to settle for being the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. (NASA photo)
THE LASER reflector can be used by any nation that wants to shoot a beam at it, and it is in this respect a truly international scientific facility.
The second device was a seismometer to detect lunar quakes (if they exist), interior rumblings and possibly surface tides caused by the pull by earth’s gravity.
Armstrong used a long-handle scoop to collect a handful of lunar dust and apparently a few pebbles shortly after he stepped off the landing pad and touched the surface of the moon.
Pulling off the plastic bag from the working end of the scoop, he bolted it shut and stuck it into a pocket in the leg of his space suit.
This turned out to be an achievement in itself, since the suit was inflated so tightly that even putting his hand in his pocket took considerable doing. Also, because of the restrictions of the bubble helmet he was wearing, he couldn’t see the pocket.
Armstrong and Aldrin had landed their Eagle spacecraft gently.
The spindly legged landing vehicle, slowed from orbital speed by the powerful descent rocket engine, circled three quarters of the way around the moon and touched down very close to the target area.
It landed a short distance beyond the planned landing spot, as nearly as the astronauts could determine.
It was the culmination of a journey that began at Cape Kennedy, Fla., nearly a quarter of a million miles away, last Wednesday morning – and of a space program launched by President John F. Kennedy in May 1961.
The first words spoken by a man on the moon were the prosaic report of a professional pilot. They were spoken by Armstrong.
“OK, engine stop. Descent engine command override off. Engine arm off. Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
The control center responded. “Roger, Tranquillity, we copy you down. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Armstrong continued: “Then … you … I tell you. We’re going to be busy for a minute … very smooth touchdown.”
A FEW MOMENTS later, the lunar astronauts continued the report.
“Houston, that may have seemed like a very long final phase. The auto target was taking us right into a football-field size crater with a lot of boulders. It required us flying manually over the rock field to find a real good area.”
Astronaut Charles Duke, the control-center communicator with the spacecraft, said later that the Eagle skimmed over the crater at an altitude of 200 feet to land in a smooth area on the far side of it. The landing spot was within 4 miles of the center of the target area.
Armstrong’s first report on what the moon looks like close up came a moment later:
||Honeywell’s Herb Lindquist squeezed into an early mockup of the Apollo command module in 1962. Honeywell, then based in Minneapolis, was deeply involved in the Apollo project. When Apollo 11′s automated guidance system steered the landing module toward a boulder-strewn crater, Neil Armstrong used a manual pistol-grip hand control made by Honeywell to guide the craft to a smooth landing spot. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
“WE’LL GET to the details of what’s around here, but it looks like a collection of just every variety of shapes, angularities, granularities, every variety of rock you could find.
“The colors vary pretty much depending on how you’re looking. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a general color at all, however.
“It looks as though some of the rocks and boulders, of which there are quite a few in the near area, it looks as though they are going to have some interesting colors to them.”
MEANWHILE, the Columbia, the main Apollo spacecraft, was orbiting 70 miles above the moon with Michael Collins, its lone pilot, trying to keep up with what was going on in the Eagle.
Communications between the two spacecraft were not as good as those between Eagle and earth, and Collins occasionally asked Houston for details.
The descent began on the far side of the moon after Eagle was separated from Columbia.
Aldrin fired the descent rocket engine to slow the Eagle from its 3,500-m.p.h. orbital speed and start it on the long, curving trajectory to the surface.
It was traveling only three feet per second when it finally touched the surface.
AFTER inspecting the spacecraft and finding everything satisfactory, Armstrong asked and received permission to begin the walk on the moon several hours early.
The schedule was changed again a couple of hours later when the two astronauts found they needed more time to complete the preparations for the walk.
Originally they had not been scheduled to emerge from the spacecraft until after 1 am.
Dr. Charles Berry, chief medical man at Mission Control, said nobody ever had been satisfied with the original schedule, which called for the two men to eat and then take a four-hour rest period before emerging.
IT WAS recognized, Dr. Berry said, that they would be too excited and eager to get out for the rest period to do much good, but that no better arrangement could be worked out.
However, when they asked permission to emerge ahead of time he readily agreed.
|Buzz Aldrin at the base of the lunar module. (NASA photo)
BONUS APOLLO 11 NEWSPAPER LINKS: John Gonzales, a Houston Chronicle copy editor and host of Bayou City History, has gathered a collection of blog entries on this topic, starting with Rick Campbell’s 40 Years After.
• Larry Harnisch of the Los Angeles Times has documented some of his paper’s coverage of the 1969 moon landing at his blog, the Daily Mirror.
• Elaine Raines at the Arizona Daily Star posted an item about Tucson’s connection to the launch at Tales from the Morgue.
• San Luis Obispo County Tribune photographer David Middlecamp has been looking back at his paper’s run-up to the moon landing at his blog, Photos from the Vault.