Space > Moon > Apollo
program > Apollo 11 >
First lunar landing 20 July 1969
Aldrin consults his wrist checklist,
which lists 30 tasks planned for his 90 minutes
on the moon’s surface on 20 July 1969.
In his visor we see reflections of the TV camera,
the flag, Armstrong, the lunar module and Earth.
This photograph is usually reproduced
with Aldrin centred in the image
and an expanse of black sky above his head,
but the black sky was enlarged on the released prints,
presumably by someone in Nasa for aesthetic reasons.
The photo is shown here as Armstrong shot it
Moonfire: the Epic Journey of Apollo 11 – in pictures
Images from the 50th-anniversary edition
of Norman Mailer’s account of the Nasa mission
published by Taschen
Fri 19 Jul 2019 07.00 BST
Apollo 11 > Mission to the Moon UK
Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot
Command Module Pilot
James A. Lovell
Fred W. Haise Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot
William A. Anders
Command Module Pilot
NYT - 8 March 2019
mission control Houston, Texas
Apollo 11 capsule USA
USA > Apollo 11 > NYT readers' photos from 1969
USA > Apollo 11 > Voices: Recalling July 20, 1969
USA > Apollo 11 mission > film
USA > Apollo 11 > NASA film > Moonwalk
USA > Apollo 11
1969 UK / USA
USA > Apollo 11 moon landing / Landing the Eagle
USA > Neil Alden Armstrong 1930-2012
UK / USA
the first person
to walk on the moon
Neil A. Armstrong
USA > History in the making: Guardian and Observer report Apollo 11
USA > "That's one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind"
Time Vol. 94 No. 4
July 25, 1969
First Man on the Moon,
Dies at 82
August 25, 2012
The New York Times
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the
first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82.
His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from
cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in
Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to
those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to
many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not
say where he died.
A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong
made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on
the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s.
President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal,
before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely
to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.
On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as
Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain
near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the
last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they
“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control.
“The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground.
You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a
The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the
world watching on television.
A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and
helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar
surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
(His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether
he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)
Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low
lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael
Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In
all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17
mission in 1972.
The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in
America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful
president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it
touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of
assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended,
human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.
The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts
test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that
his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and
scientific instruments and collect rock samples.
After news of Mr. Armstrong’s death was reported, President Obama, in a
statement from the White House, said, “Neil was among the greatest of American
“And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time,” the
president added, “he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be
Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA administrator, said, “As long as there
are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for
taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”
Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr. Armstrong
“carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all.” The
historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr. Armstrong for a NASA oral
history, described him as “our nation’s most bashful Galahad.” His family called
him “a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”
Indeed, some space officials have cited these characteristics, as well as his
engineering skills and experience piloting X-15 rocket planes, as reasons that
Mr. Armstrong stood out in the astronaut corps. After the post-flight parades
and a world tour for the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Mr. Armstrong gradually
withdrew from the public eye. He was not reclusive, but as much as possible he
sought to lead a private life, first as an associate administrator in the space
program, then as a university professor and director of a number of
Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta,
Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. His father was a
state auditor, which meant the family moved every few years to a new Ohio town
while Neil was growing up. At the age of 6, Neil and his father took a ride in a
Ford Trimotor airplane, known as the Tin Goose. It must have made an impression,
for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, even before he got his
Neil became an Eagle Scout when the family later moved back to Wapakoneta, where
he finished high school. (The town now has a museum named for Mr. Armstrong.)
From there, he went to Purdue University as an engineering student on a Navy
scholarship. His college years were interrupted by the Korean War, in which Mr.
Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions, one in which he
was forced to eject after the plane lost one of its ailerons, the hinged
flight-control panels on the wings.
In “First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong,” James R. Hansen wrote that in Mr.
Armstrong’s first year at Purdue, Charles E. Yeager broke the sound barrier in
the rocket-powered Bell X-1. It was exciting but bittersweet for the young
student. He thought aviation history had already passed him by.
“All in all, for someone who was immersed in, fascinated by, and dedicated to
flight,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer, “I was disappointed by the wrinkle
in history that had brought me along one generation late. I had missed all the
great times and adventures in flight.”
During the Korean War, Mr. Armstrong was in the unit that the author James A.
Michener wrote of in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” Back at Purdue after the Navy,
Mr. Armstrong plunged more earnestly into aeronautical engineering studies, his
grades rising and a career in sight.
By this time, he had also met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, a student in home
economics from Evanston, Ill. Soon after his graduation, they were married, in
They had two sons, Eric and Mark, who survive. A daughter, Karen, died of an
inoperable brain tumor in 1962. The couple were divorced in 1994; Janet
Armstrong lives in Utah. In 1999, Mr. Armstrong married Carol Knight, a widow 15
years his junior; she also survives. They lived in Indian Hill, a suburb of
Other survivors include a stepson and stepdaughter; a brother, Dean; a sister,
June Armstrong Hoffman, and 10 grandchildren.
After his first marriage, the newlyweds moved to California, where Mr. Armstrong
had been hired as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee
on Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, at Edwards Air Force Base. His first flight in a rocket plane
was in the Bell X-1B, a successor to the plane Mr. Yeager had first flown faster
than the speed of sound.
Mr. Armstrong impressed his peers. Milt Thompson, one of the test pilots, said
he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots.” Another
colleague, Bill Dana, said he “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and
a memory that remembered them like a photograph.” He made seven X-15 flights at
4,000 miles per hour, reaching the edge of space, and piloted many more of the
most innovative and dangerous aircraft ever developed.
In 1958, Mr. Armstrong was chosen as a consultant for a military space plane
project, the X-20 Dyna-Soar, and was later named one of the pilots. But the
young test pilot was attracted by another opportunity. NASA was receiving
applications for the second group of astronauts, after the Mercury Seven. His
reputation after seven years at the NASA flight center at Edwards had preceded
him, and so he was tapped for the astronaut corps.
“I thought the attractions of being an astronaut were actually, not so much the
Moon, but flying in a completely new medium,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer.
At Houston, the new astronaut began training for flights in the two-person
Gemini spacecraft, the successor to the smaller Mercury capsules and forerunner
to the three-person Apollos. Mr. Armstrong became the first American civilian
astronaut to fly in space, as commander of Gemini 8. He and his co-pilot, David
R. Scott, were launched on March 16, 1966. They performed the first successful
docking of two vehicles in space, their Gemini linking with an unmanned Agena in
an essential test for later operations on lunar flights.
Once docked, however, the joined spacecraft began to roll. Attempts to steady
the vehicle were unavailing. On instructions from Mission Control, Mr. Armstrong
separated Gemini from the Agena, but the rolling only increased, to the point
that the astronauts were in danger of passing out. The problem was evidently in
the Gemini itself. The astronauts turned the control thrusters off, switching to
the re-entry control system. Stability was restored, but once the re-entry
propulsion was activated, the crew was told to prepare to come home before the
end of their only day in orbit.
Next, Mr. Armstrong was the backup commander for Apollo 8, the first flight to
circumnavigate the Moon, doing so at Christmastime in 1968. It was the mission
that put Apollo back on track after a cockpit fire during a launching pad
rehearsal had killed three astronauts in January 1967. And it put Mr. Armstrong
in position to command Apollo 11.
If everything went well with the lunar module test on Apollo 9 and with a
shakedown flight to lunar orbit on Apollo 10, then Mr. Armstrong was in line to
land on the Moon with Buzz Aldrin and with Michael Collins as the command module
pilot. As the commander, NASA officials decided, Mr. Armstrong would be the
first to walk on the Moon.
About six and a half hours after the landing, Mr. Armstrong opened the hatch of
the four-legged lunar module and slowly made his way down the ladder to the
lunar surface. A television camera followed his every step for all the world to
see. A crater near the landing site is named in Mr. Armstrong’s honor.
Mr. Armstrong and Colonel Aldrin left a plaque on the Moon that read: “Here men
from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in
peace for all mankind.”
After leaving the space program, Mr. Armstrong was careful to do nothing to
tarnish that image or achievement. Though he traveled and gave speeches — as he
did in October 2007, when he dedicated the new Neil Armstrong Hall of
Engineering at Purdue — he rarely gave interviews and avoided the spotlight.
In the biography “First Man,” Dr. Hansen noted, “Everyone gives Neil the
greatest credit for not trying to take advantage of his fame, not like other
astronauts have done.” To which Janet Armstrong responded: “Yes, but look what
it’s done to him inside. He feels guilty that he got all the acclaim for an
effort of tens of thousands of people.” Then she added: “He’s certainly led an
interesting life. But he took it too seriously to heart.”
For a time, he was an associate NASA administrator for aeronautics, but he tired
of a Washington desk job. Ignoring many high-level offers in business and
academia, he returned to Ohio as a professor of aeronautical engineering at the
University of Cincinnati and bought a farm near Lebanon, Ohio. He also served as
a director for several corporations.
“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and
never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits,” his family said in the
Mr. Armstrong re-entered the public spotlight a couple of years ago to voice
sharp disagreement with President Obama for canceling NASA’s program to send
astronauts back to the Moon. Later, he testified to a Senate committee,
expressing skepticism that the approach of relying on commercial companies would
Last September, Mr. Armstrong testified to a House committee that NASA “must
find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate work
Almost as soon as the news of his death was announced, there was an outpouring
of well wishes and fond memorials on Web sites and social media, a reflection of
the extraordinary public acclaim that came to a very private man.
“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of
good will from people around the world and from all walks of life,” his family
said. “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his
remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the
world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and
push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”
John Schwartz contributed reporting.
Susan C. Beachy contributed
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 28, 2012
An obituary on Sunday about the astronaut Neil Armstrong
misstated, in some
the name of the town in Ohio where he lived.
It is Indian Hill,
not Indian Hills.
Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies
One Giant Leap to Nowhere
July 19, 2009
The New York Times
By TOM WOLFE
WELL, let’s see now ... That was a small step for Neil
Armstrong, a giant leap for mankind and a real knee in the groin for NASA.
The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I
add “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world, died in infancy at 10:56
p.m. New York time on July 20, 1969, the moment the foot of Apollo 11’s
Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.
It was no ordinary dead-and-be-done-with-it death. It was full-blown purgatory,
purgatory being the holding pen for recently deceased but still restless souls
awaiting judgment by a Higher Authority.
Like many another youngster at that time, or maybe retro-youngster in my case, I
was fascinated by the astronauts after Apollo 11. I even dared to dream of
writing a book about them someday. If anyone had told me in July 1969 that the
sound of Neil Armstrong’s small step plus mankind’s big one was the shuffle of
pallbearers at graveside, I would have averted my eyes and shaken my head in
pity. Poor guy’s bucket’s got a hole in it.
Why, putting a man on the Moon was just the beginning, the prelude, the
prologue! The Moon was nothing but a little satellite of Earth. The great
adventure was going to be the exploration of the planets ... Mars first, then
Venus, then Pluto. Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus? NASA would
figure out their slots in the schedule in due course. In any case, we Americans
wouldn’t stop until we had explored the entire solar system. And after that ...
the galaxies beyond.
NASA had long since been all set to send men to Mars, starting with manned
fly-bys of the planet in 1975. Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist
who had come over to our side in 1945, had been designing a manned Mars project
from the moment he arrived. In 1952 he published his Mars Project as a series of
graphic articles called “Man Will Conquer Space Soon” in Collier’s magazine. It
created a sensation. He was front and center in 1961 when NASA undertook Project
Empire, which resulted in working plans for a manned Mars mission. Given the
epic, the saga, the triumph of Project Apollo, Mars would naturally come next.
All NASA and von Braun needed was the president’s and Congress’s blessings and
the great adventure was a Go. Why would they so much as blink before saying the
Three months after the landing, however, in October 1969, I began to wonder ...
I was in Florida, at Cape Kennedy, the space program’s launching facility,
aboard a NASA tour bus. The bus’s Spielmeister was a tall-fair-and-handsome man
in his late 30s ... and a real piece of lumber when it came to telling tourists
on a tour bus what they were looking at. He was so bad, I couldn’t resist
striking up a conversation at the end of the tour.
Sure enough, it turned out he had not been put on Earth for this job. He was an
engineer who until recently had been a NASA heat-shield specialist. A baffling
wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It was so bad he was
lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig on a tour bus. Neil
Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were still on
their triumphal world tour ... while back home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of
highly motivated space scientists — irreplaceable! — there were no others!
...anywhere! ... You couldn’t just run an ad saying, “Help Wanted: Experienced
heat-shield expert” ... the irreplaceable team was breaking up, scattering in
nobody knows how many hopeless directions.
How could such a thing happen? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. NASA had
neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.
From the moment the Soviets launched Sputnik I into orbit around the Earth in
1957, everybody from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on down looked
upon the so-called space race as just one thing: a military contest. At first
there was alarm over the Soviets’ seizure of the “strategic high ground” of
space. They were already up there — right above us! They could now hurl
thunderbolts down whenever and wherever they wanted. And what could we do about
it? Nothing. Ka-boom! There goes Bangor ... Ka-boom! There goes Boston ...
Ka-boom! There goes New York ... Baltimore ... Washington ... St. Louis ...
Denver ... San Jose — blown away! — just like that.
Physicists were quick to point out that nobody would choose space as a place
from which to attack Earth. The spacecraft, the missile, the Earth itself, plus
the Earth’s own rotation, would be traveling at wildly different speeds upon
wildly different geometric planes. You would run into the notorious “three body
problem” and then some. You’d have to be crazy. The target would be untouched
and you would wind up on the floor in a fetal ball, twitching and gibbering. On
the other hand, the rockets that had lifted the Soviets’ five-ton manned ships
into orbit were worth thinking about. They were clearly powerful enough to reach
any place on Earth with nuclear warheads.
But that wasn’t what was on President Kennedy’s mind when he summoned NASA’s
administrator, James Webb, and Webb’s deputy, Hugh Dryden, to the White House in
April 1961. The president was in a terrible funk. He kept muttering: “If
somebody can just tell me how to catch up. Let’s find somebody — anybody ...
There’s nothing more important.” He kept saying, “We’ve got to catch up.”
Catching up had become his obsession. He never so much as mentioned the rockets.
Dryden said that, frankly, there was no way we could catch up with the Soviets
when it came to orbital flights. A better idea would be to announce a crash
program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, which had produced the atomic
bomb. Only the aim this time would be to put a man on the Moon within the next
Barely a month later Kennedy made his famous oration before Congress: “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 Earth.” He
neglected to mention Dryden.
INTUITIVELY, not consciously, Kennedy had chosen another form of military
contest, an oddly ancient and archaic one. It was called “single combat.”
The best known of all single combats was David versus Goliath. Before opposing
armies clashed in all-out combat, each would send forth its “champion,” and the
two would fight to the death, usually with swords. The victor would cut off the
head of the loser and brandish it aloft by its hair.
The deadly duel didn’t take the place of the all-out battle. It was regarded as
a sign of which way the gods were leaning. The two armies then had it out on the
battlefield ... unless one army fled in terror upon seeing its champion
slaughtered. There you have the Philistines when Little David killed their
giant, Goliath ... and cut his head off and brandished it aloft by its hair (1
Samuel 17:1-58). They were overcome by a mad desire to be somewhere else. (The
Israelites pursued and destroyed them.)
More than two millenniums later, the mental atmosphere of the space race was
precisely that. The details of single combat were different. Cosmonauts and
astronauts didn’t fight hand to hand and behead one another. Instead, each
side’s brave champions, including one woman (Valentina Tereshkova), risked their
lives by sitting on top of rockets and having their comrades on the ground light
the fuse and fire them into space like the human cannonballs of yore.
The Soviets rocketed off to an early lead. They were the first to put an object
into orbit around the Earth (Sputnik), the first to put an animal into orbit (a
dog), the first to put a man in orbit (Yuri Gagarin). No sooner had NASA put two
astronauts (Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard) into 15-minute suborbital flights to
the Bahamas — the Bahamas! — 15 minutes! — two miserable little mortar lobs! —
then the Soviets put a second cosmonaut (Gherman Titov) into orbit. He stayed up
there for 25 hours and went around the globe 17 times. Three times he flew
directly over the United States. The gods had shown which way they were leaning,
At this point, the mental atmospheres of the rocket-powered space race of the
1960s and the sword-clanking single combat of ancient days became so similar you
had to ask: Does the human beast ever really change — or merely his artifacts?
The Soviet cosmo-champions beat our astro-champions so handily, gloom spread
like a gas. Every time you picked up a newspaper you saw headlines with the
phrase, SPACE GAP ... SPACE GAP ... SPACE GAP ... The Soviets had produced a
generation of scientific geniuses — while we slept, fat and self-satisfied!
Educators began tearing curriculums apart as soon as Sputnik went up,
introducing the New Math and stressing another latest thing, the Theory of
At last, in February 1962, NASA managed to get a man into Earth orbit, John
Glenn. You had to have been alive at that time to comprehend the reaction of the
nation, practically all of it. He was up for only five hours, compared to
Titov’s 25, but he was our ... Protector! Against all odds he had risked his
very hide for ... us! — protected us from our mortal enemy! — struck back in the
duel in the heavens! — showed the world that we Americans were born fighting and
would never give up! John Glenn made us whole again!
During his ticker-tape parade up Broadway, you have never heard such cheers or
seen so many thousands of people crying. Big Irish cops, the classic New York
breed, were out in the intersections in front of the world, sobbing, blubbering,
boo-hoo-ing, with tears streaming down their faces. John Glenn had protected all
of us, cops, too. All tears have to do with protection ... but I promise not to
lay that theory on you now. John Glenn, in 1962, was the last true national hero
America has ever had.
There were three more Mercury flights, and then the Gemini series of two-man
flights began. With Gemini, we dared to wonder if perhaps we weren’t actually
pulling closer to the Soviets in this greatest of all single combats. But we
held our breath, fearful that the Soviets’ anonymous Chief Designer would trump
us again with some unimaginably spectacular feat.
Sure enough, the C.I.A. brought in sketchy reports that the Soviets were on the
verge of a Moon shot.
NASA entered into the greatest crash program of all time, Apollo. It launched
five lunar missions in one year, December 1968 to November 1969. With Apollo 11,
we finally won the great race, landing a man on the Moon before the end of this
decade and returning him safely to Earth.
Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But
then, on the morning after, congressmen began to wonder about something that
hadn’t dawned on them since Kennedy’s oration. What was this single combat stuff
— they didn’t use the actual term — really all about? It had been a battle for
morale at home and image abroad. Fine, O.K., we won, but it had no tactical
military meaning whatsoever. And it had cost a fortune, $150 billion or so. And
this business of sending a man to Mars and whatnot? Just more of the same, when
you got right down to it. How laudable ... how far-seeing ... but why don’t we
just do a Scarlett O’Hara and think about it tomorrow?
And that NASA budget! Now there was some prime pork you could really sink your
teeth into! And they don’t need it anymore! Game’s over, NASA won,
congratulations. Who couldn’t use some of that juicy meat to make the people
happy? It had an ambrosial aroma ... made you think of re-election ....
NASA’s annual budget sank like a stone from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3
billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher
corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher,
Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of
cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner
in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program
was really all about.
It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on
Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a
star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system
uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as
we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we
start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and
this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the
only meaningful life we know of.
Unfortunately, NASA couldn’t present as its spokesman and great philosopher a
former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent.
As a result, the space program has been killing time for 40 years with a series
of orbital projects ... Skylab, the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission, the
International Space Station and the space shuttle. These programs have required
a courage and engineering brilliance comparable to the manned programs that
preceded them. But their purpose has been mainly to keep the lights on at the
Kennedy Space Center and Houston’s Johnson Space Center — by removing manned
flight from the heavens and bringing it very much down to earth. The shuttle
program, for example, was actually supposed to appeal to the public by offering
orbital tourist rides, only to end in the Challenger disaster, in which the
first such passenger, Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher, perished.
Forty years! For 40 years, everybody at NASA has known that the only logical
next step is a manned Mars mission, and every overture has been entertained only
briefly by presidents and the Congress. They have so many more luscious and
appealing projects that could make better use of the close to $10 billion
annually the Mars program would require. There is another overture even at this
moment, and it does not stand a chance in the teeth of Depression II.
“Why not send robots?” is a common refrain. And once more it is the late Wernher
von Braun who comes up with the rejoinder. One of the things he most enjoyed
saying was that there is no computerized explorer in the world with more than a
tiny fraction of the power of a chemical analog computer known as the human
brain, which is easily reproduced by unskilled labor.
What NASA needs now is the power of the Word. On Darwin’s tongue, the Word
created a revolutionary and now well-nigh universal conception of the nature of
human beings, or, rather, human beasts. On Freud’s tongue, the Word means that
at this very moment there are probably several million orgasms occurring that
would not have occurred had Freud never lived. Even the fact that he is proved
to be a quack has not diminished the power of his Word.
July 20, 1969, was the moment NASA needed, more than anything else in this
world, the Word. But that was something NASA’s engineers had no specifications
for. At this moment, that remains the only solution to recovering NASA’s true
destiny, which is, of course, to build that bridge to the stars.
Tom Wolfe is the author of “The Right Stuff,”
an account of
the Mercury Seven astronauts.
One Giant Leap to
Film Takes Us Back 38 Years,
to That First Walk
September 4, 2007
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
They are old men now. That much is obvious from the tight camera shots.
Nonetheless, it is hard to fathom: has it been 38 years since the first of them
set foot on lunar soil?
“In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that premieres this week in New York
and Los Angeles, tells the story of the Apollo program and the race to reach the
moon, as President John F. Kennedy declared in 1962, “before this decade is
out.” And so, on July 20, 1969, we did.
Note the “we.” It is from one of the most powerful, lump-in-the-throat moments
of this exceptional film. Michael Collins, who orbited the moon during the
Apollo 11 mission while Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. took their
lunar module down to the surface, said that after the flight, on the
around-the-world tour that NASA sent them on, “Wherever we went, people, instead
of saying, ‘Well, you Americans did it!’ — everywhere, they said, ‘We did it!
We, humankind, we, the human race, we, people, did it!’ ”
His voice breaks slightly in the telling, and he says: “I thought that was a
wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.”
The film, by the British director David Sington, has the backing of Ron Howard,
the director of “Apollo 13.” It tells a story that has been told before, of
course, in books and movies like the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”
The stories will be told again in the coming documentary, “The Wonder of it
All,” which takes a similar, in-their-own-words approach, and in others that
will surely arrive as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing rolls
around the summer after next.
Astronauts make tough reviewers — they tend to prefer accuracy to drama — but
three Apollo astronauts interviewed for this article had praise for Mr.
Alan L. Bean, an astronaut on Apollo 12, said reaching the moon “has
implications for young people, so they see what they can do, what their
generation can do.”
Mr. Bean continued, “This is a nice thing — this is what our generation can do.
What is your generation going to do? It’s got to be better than this. Maybe it
could be an inspiration.”
Harrison H. Schmitt, the geologist astronaut who made the last landing on the
moon in 1972 with Eugene A. Cernan (and who later served a term in the United
States Senate), said, “I’m not a good judge of entertainment filming and
programming; I would do all of that differently, and go broke.”
But, Mr. Schmitt added, he would have liked to see a greater focus on the
scientific benefits of the missions, including advances in geology and the rapid
improvements in existing technologies like microelectronics that were pushed by
In the film, the personalities of the less famous astronauts come through. Mr.
Collins is funny and engaging, and Mr. Cernan is both precise and passionate.
Charles M. Duke Jr. is eloquent in talking about how he felt being the capcom,
or capsule communicator, on Apollo 11, as well as about his experiences on
Apollo 16. Edgar Mitchell, who flew on Apollo 14, speaks with an almost mystical
awe about his flight.
The astronauts also talk about seeing “the whole circle of the Earth” at once,
as Mr. Duke puts it. “That jewel of Earth was just hung, up in the blackness of
space,” he says, holding his hands out, cupped, as if to cradle the sphere.
Will the film appeal to those who did not experience the thrill of having
watched the first steps on the moon live on television? Mr. Aldrin said he hoped
the documentary would catch on. “I am looking for things that are going to
stimulate the American people” to find the value in space exploration, he said,
“the inspirational, the innovational and just the human quest to discover.”
Of the surviving moon walkers, only Mr. Armstrong declined to go on camera. That
is not unusual, since he is known to avoid the spotlight. Mr. Sington exchanged
a few e-mail messages with Mr. Armstrong, who explained, as Mr. Sington
recalled, that “if you want to talk to me about my personal experience, walking
on the moon, you’re missing the point.”
After all, Mr. Armstrong had said, “One small step for a man,” not “one small
step for me,” Mr. Sington recalled. “He represents everybody.”
And so, Mr. Sington said, he came to accept Mr. Armstrong’s decision, and to
have Mr. Armstrong’s as the only face that is not updated. “He’s the one
astronaut who stays young,” he said. “Somehow, to me, that’s satisfying.”
Is there in that, perhaps, a tiny bit of rationalization?
Mr. Sington laughed. “If he’d said, ‘Yes, I’ll do an interview,’ I’d have been
delighted,” he said.
Film Takes Us Back 38
Years, to That First Walk,
Related > Anglonautes >
Moon > Apollo 10
Testing the Lunar Module in lunar orbit
10-18 May 1969
Moon > Apollo 8
First human journey to another world
21-27 December 1968
Related > Anglonautes > History > 20th century > USA
Man on the moon - 20 July 1969
/ СССР, Germany,
Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia,
Nicaragua, El Salvador,