From the Monitor's archives: Man walks on moon

Friday marks the 43 anniversary of the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic landing on the surface of the moon. This is the front-page story that ran in the Christian Science Monitor on Jul 22, 1969.

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    This July 20, 1969 photo shows astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. posing for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.
    Neil A. Armstrong/NASA/AP/File
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Man walked on the moon and made it look easy.

Now mankind must find something new to dream about.

There were two peaks- of drama as Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. completed the first part of their great adventure, and command pilot Michael Collins, almost forgotten, circled about them.

[At this writing, the blast-off of the Apollo 11 astronauts from Tranquillity base and their docking maneuver were yet to come.]

The first was as the two astronauts separated their spidery spacecraft “Eagle” from the command ship “Columbia” and made their hazardous descent. Hundreds of millions on earth heard the interchange with Houston as they neared the Sea of Tranquility.

At the very last minute the computerized pilot aimed the fragile craft at a ridge of rocks on the projected landing site. Television viewers on earth qould only know: that the countdown was in its final seconds. Neil Armstrong grabbed the control and piloted the module beyond the original landing spot. Then, clear and firm came the call"

“Houston!” Astronaut Armstrong paused and took a breath. “Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.”

In living rooms people pinched themselves. Television announcers who had built up this big moment found themselves at a loss for words. In London's Trafalgar Square, a great crowd screamed.

Man would measure time by this first landing on the moon.

The second peak of drama was even more exciting. For hundreds of millions it was actually visible. It seemed almost as astounding to them as a quarter-of-a-million miles away they could see what was happening as it was actually happening.

By some freak of planning it had been scheduled that after making a successful landing on the moon the two astronauts would take a nap. The theory was that they would be better rested for the ordeal. But human nature follows man to the moon. Permission was asked and immediately given to make the first foray onto the moons surface at once.

'Knights gird themselves'

There followed an agonizing delay. They were getting dressed. The suits they donned were $300,000 suits. they made their wearers into miniature individual space modules carry self-contained atmosphere, pressure, oxygen, temperature, and shields form meteorites.

Half the world waited while they laboriously put on the cumbersome garments like knights girding themselves with a new style of flexible armor, doing it in space about the size of a telephone booth. Every man who had ever put on a dress suit and knew the hazards of a popped button sympathized with what was going on in the little cabin where the two men repeatedly checked and examined each other before stepping out into the unknown.

Later a reporter jested: “They made millions wait while they dressed to go out.” Seventeen minutes and 40 seconds past '4 p.m. Eastern daylight time Sunday, July 20, the Eagle lands.

6:30 — Astronauts ask permission to start their mission on the moon around nine — “everything go.” Mission control (Houston) radio concurrence.

Conversation follows in grating telephone tones:

“You guys are getting prime TV time here,” says Mission Control.

“I hope that little TV set works, but we’ll see,” says Astronaut Armstrong from the moon.

Minutes and hours pass. Radio and TV announcers fill time as best they may.

Families stayed glued to sets. Pictures of headlines of newspapers are thrown on the screen: "Men land on moon” says the sedate New York Times in the largest type it has ever used.   

10:40 —The cabin is depressurized, the space suits are on, the hatch of the spacecraft is opened. “I’m on the porch,” says Neil Armstrong.

10:56 — Neil Armstrong is coming down the nine-rung ladder backward.

Suddenly and dramatically on the TV screen appears his actual image. He has switched on the small TV camera. Across the vague but unmistakable picture comes the historic cutline: “Live from-surface of, the moon.”

And then:

10:56 — The huge boot reaches down, touches the stuff beneath it gingerly, places weight upon it, and the first man has stood on the moon.

11:12—Astronaut Armstrong has uttered his memorable phrase which seems rather different from his normal style: “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

A little later in a more natural voice he says: “Ain’t that something.”

He moves with increased confidence like a man who has found that he can skate. Tension relaxes a little, but the scene becomes more extraordinary. For Neil Armstrong proceeds in a kind of swimming hop, with gravity one-sixth that of earth but, at the same time, weighed down by his great suit and oxygen back pack that makes his silhouette look like a squaw carrying a papoose.

He reports the fascinating stuff of which the moon is made: footprints, in cocoa-colored dust, the surface beneath hard and firm. One rock seems to be volcanic. A blinding shaft of sunlight makes the crude picture stark and dazzling and half-blinds the astronaut, he reports.

In his space suit he passes from a temperature of perhaps 240 in the sun to something almost as many degrees below zero in the shade, and declares he feels little change.

11:15 — Edwin Aldrin is on the moon. He jumps up once like man on a trampoline. The image sent to earth gives the impression of two big spotlight eyes: a terrifying sight if these were Martians on earth. They practice balance, stability, the inertial effect on their packs, knowing that they cannot bend over and that a rip would be fatal.

They give a grotesque impression of dancing; there is something gay about it as the adventure goes swimmingly, and tension relaxes. We can hear Houston talking to them, the men, talking to each other, and now and then Houston and forgotten Mike Collins exchanging comments as he repeatedly girdles the moon and tries vainly to pick out his comrades on the dazzling crater-pocked surface below. He has no TV set; he is one of the few who can’t see what’s going on.

Formalities observed

11:49 — Formalities are observed. The astronauts set their plaque, post the flag, and rather formally come to attention to receive a call from President Nixon who is shown on a split screen. His comments are formal.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” says Neil Armstrong, and they seem to relax again.

Midnight — They are going around their circle taking random rock samples. Descriptions are difficult. Apparently the rocks look different as the sun strikes them in the great desolate landscape. The sun seems to have positive pressure. A solar screen has been put up to test bombardment of “solar waves” (protons). [Editor's note: This should have read "photons."]

At one point in the fantastic scene Astronaut Aldrin comes hopping back into view around the spindly spacecraft, like a man in a balloon. The rocks are “rather slippery—they’re powdery” Houston is told, or again they are called “beige, cocoa-colored.” It is noted that LEM’s footpads are only depressed in the surface about “Uh, one or two inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine-grained as you get close to it."

Geologists will test those precious pieces of the moon: Do they show traces of water, of volcanic action, or life?

12:59 — Houston has warned the men to retreat to their cabin as their supply of oxygen runs low. A kind of clothesline (lunar-equipment conveyor) carries rocks into the craft.

1:10 —This time Astronaut Armstrong takes half-a-dozen rungs in one jump as he rejoins his craft. He fears the moon no longer; man has adapted once more.


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