THE LAST WORD: Do you remember where you were when man first landed on the moon?
Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing of a spacecraft on the moon when Apollo 11 touched down and two astronauts set foot on the lunar surface, first Purdue University alumnus and Commander Neil Armstrong, followed by Buzz Aldrin.
It’s one of those events, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, that sears in our brains where we were and what we were doing at the time.
The moon landing on July 20, 1969, took place as I was taking my future bride home from a date on that Sunday. Beth was a student at Parkview School of Nursing, attending a summer session, and I was dropping her off at English Hall (which no longer exists), located next to Parkview Hospital on Randalia Drive.
We listened to the live reports of the landing on WOWO, AM-1190 radio, while sitting in the car before I escorted her to the student nurses’ dormitory. Millions were watching live video from the moon on television, especially of Armstrong walking on the lunar surface six hours after landing.
Armstrong, from nearby Wapakoneta, Ohio, and Aldrin initially spent more than two hours together outside the spacecraft, gathering lunar material to bring back to Earth. Command module pilot Michael Collins remained alone in the command module Columbia in lunar orbit while they were on the moon’s surface. Altogether, Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than 21 hours on the moon’s surface at the landing site they named Tranquility Base before taking off from the surface to reconnect with Columbia in its lunar orbit.
It seems incredible that an achievement that seemed so unimaginable at the time occurred a half century ago. And what has baffled me since then is that, while there were six crewed U.S. landings on the moon between 1969 and 1972, no other country ever achieved a manned landing, and the U.S. hasn’t done it since.
Oh, there have been plenty of unmanned landings – and crashes through the years. The first human-made object to reach the surface of the moon, in fact, was the Luna 2 mission launched by the Soviet Union and crashing on the lunar surface on Sept. 13, 1959. The USSR’s Luna 1 was meant to crash on the moon when it was launched on Jan. 2 that year, but due to a malfunction missed its target by 5,995 kilometers on Jan. 4.
The most recent moon mission was Feb. 22 this year when the private Israeli space agency Space IL launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., trying for a soft landing. But the spacecraft crashed into the surface on April 11.
As do many U.S. citizens, one of my great desires is to see our country revive its programs for manned space exploration and to return to the moon.
NASA says it plans to have astronauts land on the moon’s South Pole by 2024. According to its website, NASA says it is implementing the President’s Space Policy Directive-1 “to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.”
Meanwhile, anticipation for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 has been widespread with many TV specials and other special live presentations throughout the country, such as a 10-day celebration at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta that continues through Sunday as well as others at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the NASA Space Center in Houston. And now through Aug. 16 at Purdue will be the Apollo in the Archives exhibit – selections from the Neil Armstrong papers that explore the astronaut’s legacy and his historic work.
Science Central in Fort Wayne is commemorating the anniversary as well with a photo display of the major milestones of the historic event as well as a special demonstration in the AEP Foundation Science on a Sphere Theater about the Apollo 11 mission. On Saturday it will also host guest speaker David Schuster, an associate professor of history at Purdue University Fort Wayne, who will make multiple presentations throughout the day about the historical significance of the first manned moon landing.
It’s a big deal, folks. And, yes, it really happened, in spite of conspiracy theorists, like those debunking 9-11 and JFK’s assassination, who might say otherwise.
Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.