MEM­O­RIES OF MOON LAND­ING

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAR­CIA DUNN

The moon land­ing 50 years ago this month united peo­ple around the globe in a way not seen be­fore or since.

Ahalf-cen­tury ago, in the mid­dle of a mean year of war, famine, vi­o­lence in the streets and the widen­ing of the gen­er­a­tion gap, men from planet Earth stepped onto an­other world for the first time, unit­ing peo­ple around the globe in a way not seen be­fore or since.

Hun­dreds of mil­lions tuned in to ra­dios or watched the grainy blackand-white im­ages on TV as Apollo 11’s Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, in one of hu­man­ity’s most glo­ri­ous tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ments.

As­tro­naut Michael Collins, who or­bited the moon alone in the mother ship while Arm­strong pro­claimed for the ages “That’s one small step for man, one gi­ant leap for mankind,” was struck by the band­ing to­gether of Earth’s in­hab­i­tants.

“It was a won­der­ful achieve­ment in the sense that peo­ple ev­ery­where around the planet ap­plauded it: north, south, east, west, rich, poor, Com­mu­nist, what­ever,” Collins, now 88, said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

That sense of unity did not last long. But 50 years later, Apollo 11 — the cul­mi­na­tion of eight years of break­neck la­bor in­volv­ing a work­force of 400,000 and a price tag in the bil­lions, all aimed at win­ning the space race and beat­ing the Soviet Union to the moon — con­tin­ues to thrill.

Arm­strong, who ex­pertly steered the lu­nar mod­ule Ea­gle to a smooth land­ing with just se­conds of fuel left, died in 2012 at 82. Aldrin, 89, who fol­lowed

him onto the gray, dusty sur­face, was em­broiled re­cently in a now­dropped le­gal dis­pute in which two of his chil­dren tried to have him de­clared men­tally in­com­pe­tent. He has kept an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally low pro­file in the run-up to the an­niver­sary.

Back in 1961, NASA had barely 15 min­utes of hu­man sub­or­bital flight un­der its belt — Alan Shep­ard’s his­tory-mak­ing flight — when Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy is­sued the Cold War-era chal­lenge of land­ing a man on the moon by decade’s end, and then re­turn­ing him safely.

At the time, the Sovi­ets were beat­ing Amer­ica at ev­ery turn in the space race, with the first satel­lite, Sput­nik, and the first man in space, Yuri Ga­garin.

Kennedy’s chal­lenge struck John Tribe, one of Cape Canaveral’s orig­i­nal rocket sci­en­tists, as im­pos­si­ble.

“We were in the rocket busi­ness, so we were do­ing some weird and won­der­ful things back in those days. But, yes, it was an un­be­liev­able an­nounce­ment at that time,” he said. “It took a lot of guts.”

NASA’s Project Mer­cury gave way to the two-man Gemini flights, then the three-man Apollo pro­gram, which was dealt a dev­as­tat­ing set­back when three as­tro­nauts were killed in a fire dur­ing a 1967 test on the launch pad. The pace was re­lent­less amid fears the Sovi­ets would get to the moon first.

Cape Canaveral’s Bill Wal­dron re­mem­bers work­ing “seven days a week, 12 hours a day, six months at a clip” on the lu­nar mod­ules.

The pres­sure was so in­tense lead­ing up to the flight that Collins de­vel­oped tics in both eyes.

Launch day — Wed­nes­day, July 16, 1969 — dawned with an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion peo­ple lin­ing the swel­ter­ing beaches and roads of what had been re­named Cape Kennedy in mem­ory of the slain pres­i­dent.

At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the 363-foot Saturn V rocket roared off Pad 39A, its as­tro­nauts hurtling to­ward their des­ti­na­tion and des­tiny 240,000 miles away. The com­mand mod­ule, Columbia, and the at­tached lu­nar mod­ule reached the moon three days later. The next day, July 20, Arm­strong and Aldrin de­scended to the sur­face in the lu­nar mod­ule.

Collins wasn’t overly con­cerned about Arm­strong and Aldrin get­ting down to the moon. Rather, he wor­ried about them get­ting off the moon and back to the mother ship. But he kept his fears to him­self.

“If it was un­think­able, it was un­sayable also,” Collins said. “We never dis­cussed or hinted at their get­ting stranded on the moon. I mean, we were not fools, and we knew darn well that a lot of things had to go ex­actly right for them to as­cend as they were sup­posed to do.”

Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon even had a speech pre­pared in case of dis­as­ter: “Fate has or­dained that the men who went to the moon to ex­plore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

As it turned out, de­scent proved more alarm­ing than as­cent.

With min­utes re­main­ing to touch­down, the Ea­gle was rat­tled by one com­puter alarm, then an­other. Cau­tion lights flashed. But flight con­trollers had re­hearsed that very sce­nario right be­fore the flight, and the mis­sion pressed on.

Then a boul­der-strewn crater ap­peared at the tar­get land­ing site, and Arm­strong had to keep fly­ing, look­ing for some­where safe to put down.

Fi­nally came word from Arm­strong: “Hous­ton, Tran­quil­ity Base here. The Ea­gle has landed.”

The time was 4:17 p.m. “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breath­ing again,” Mis­sion Con­trol ra­dioed back.

Arm­strong de­scended the nine-rung lad­der first, touch­ing the lu­nar sur­face at 10:56 p.m. Aldrin fol­lowed him out 18 min­utes later.

NEIL ARM­STRONG NASA via AP file

As­tro­naut Buzz Aldrin Jr. ap­proaches the U.S. flag on the moon dur­ing the Apollo 11 mis­sion on July 20, 1969.

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