Moon landing--the veteran and me
“Program note”–after my musings as a rookie reporter, read on for a gripping essay by Jim Slade, a friend and colleague, who actually covered the mission.
On July 20, 1969, I was fresh out of Indiana University at my first job in TV news, anchor and reporter for WTTV, fondly known as Channel 4, in Indianapolis. I was in the control room with a few of the guys, watching that scene above.
It was spectacular. We had the picture up on the control room’s main monitor, a large screen, with a direct feed from one of the networks. We stared at the screen wordlessly for minute after minute. The flag, the rover, the astronaut. The motionless camera.
All of us were silent, in awe, except for one guy. He was the director of the nightly newscast. It was his job to keep the show moving, switching from camera to camera. We anchors had to follow his directions around the studio–usually coordinated in advance, but not always.
After a few minutes, he started moving. Then squirming. Then he couldn’t take the one-camera scene any more. He stood up and hollered, “TWO! TWO!”
Jim Slade was a radio reporter in 1969, We’ve never met in person, but he had a stint in my home town, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on his way up the ladder to the networks. Unlike me, watching a TV monitor, Jim was there:
=== === ===
“That’s one small step for a man..”
It was stated simply enough, but it was never thought to be
simple. Audacious, maybe..outlandish, even..but never simple. The
young President stood up and said that we would send a man to the
moon and return him safely within the decade. Just like that. Of
course, he said it would be hard, but he didn’t know the half of it. He
didn’t want to know; he’d leave that to the experts who had already
told him privately that it could be done. Now they had to go out and
Apollo was built from the scraps of World War II. Technology
captured from the Germans sparked thought among American
engineers who began experimenting with rocket-powered aircraft
while others concentrated on jets. By the time John Kennedy
reached for the moon, there was already a substantial amount of
data and materials on the shelf from which the lunar program could
So they built a three-tiered program: Mercury, Gemini and
Apollo..the first two feeding the design of the third. Mercury proved
that a human could be equipped to survive in space. Gemini showed
the human could steer himself somewhere. Apollo put it all together
and did just that.
Apollo was a political creation; science had very little to do
with it. There was a “race” with the Russians and that was what the
public saw and what they knew. Science was a hitchhiker, grubbing
profits..and grateful for the chance; taken along because it would
have been unseemly not to. After all, Apollo was going to a very
mysterious place. But there was no mistaking that the Engineers
were in charge and they were getting their orders from the White
House. In all truth, that’s what kept it going.
But whatever it was, it was glorious.
The test programs were methodical and tedious. Each step was
examined and restudied within the time constraints. Mistakes were
catastrophies, successes were triumphs. The schedule was
everything and the public was paying attention, so the politicians
were never far away.
When we finally did it, the whole world was watching. For a
brief span of time, Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and
Michael Collins were uppermost in the thoughts of man.
Launched at 9:32 AM on July 16th, 1969, (well within JFK’s
decade) the mammoth Saturn 5 rocket shoved them out of Earth’s
atmosphere and toward the moon, which they found themselves
orbiting 76 hours later. Armstrong and Aldrin undocked the Lunar
Lander at 100 hours after launch, landing on the Moon’s Sea of
Tranquility something under one hour later
Armstrong started down the ladder at 10:56 P.M., EDT. He was
seen by a vast television audience and heard world-wide on radio as
he gingerly swung his foot toward the Lunar Surface, saying: “That’s
one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
And the world changed, never to see itself the same.
There’s a plaque fastened to the forward landing leg of Apollo
11’s Lunar Module. It says that no matter what circumstances
caused us to go to the moon, when we finally did it, we did it in the
name of humanity and not just for us. It’s a noble thought, but it
may have been a little before its time.
Apollo 11 was the end product of an effort that may have
surplanted a war. The resources and the energy that went into the
leap to the moon were the effort of a single nation, spent in a
contest designed to show the rest of the world who had the best
technology, the best engineers, the best of everything desirable.
We..we and the Russians..were determined to show everybody else
who was Top Dog. And it was a near thing.
The Russians produced a lot of firsts: first satellite, first animal
in orbit, first human in orbit, first spacewalker. The schedules
tottered back and forth with advances and setbacks. At the very
last minute, the then-Soviet Union tried to one-up us with a probe to
the moon that might have gotten there a little ahead of Apollo 11 if
things had worked out. They didn’t.
The plaque is still there, probably as bright and shiny as the
day it arrived. Perhaps someday soon, other explorers will land there
and look for it. With no weather on the moon, it’s likely they’ll find
everyhing just the way the Moonwalkers left it in 1969. Certainly,
the rudimentary instruments they left can still do a job if required.
Perhaps that will happen, too, although in the intervening years the
technology has improved exponentially…another of Apollo’s great
Going back to the Moon is in the cards for the human race.
Maybe that plaque will have more meaning now that the competitors
have learned to work together in space, bringing other nations with
them. Certainly, if the cost is to be counted, a multi-nation effort
makes good sense, just as the Moon itself makes such good sense.
We are explorers..all of us. Our planet is ideally situated for wider
exploration of the universe because the Moon is where it is. If you
need to learn how to live on another celestial body long-term, the
Moon is your training ground, just three days away. If, eventually, we
want to go to Mars (and I think we will), then the Moon is where
we’ll go to perfect the habitat we’ll take with us and to learn the
techniques for trekking beyond the horizon. The Moon will eventually
be a staging base for Mars and beyond. It will be an ideal
communications station as well as astronomy base, too, having no
atmosphere to create interference. Getting supplies to and from
such a remote station will be a long pole in the tent..water is heavy,
and carrying it across the distance will be very difficult. It’s hoped
that ice will be found in some of the deep craters at the Moon’s
south pole to relieve that burden. That kind of analysis is well
underway and, as the plaque alludes, the time has come for “all
mankind” to find the solutions..not just one nation acting in its own
But on that day, fifty years ago when we were young, this was
our shining moment. We did it. In fact, we did better than John
Kennedy asked, landing four men on the moon and returning them
safely within that ten year period. It was a monumental task
undertaken by a nation that thought it could do anything and
wanted the rest of the world to know it.
We were proud.
And we had every right to be.
Let’s get on with it.