A peek into Apollo 11’s ‘epic journey’ as it was happening 50 years ago

The summer of ‘69: the most momentous and oft-discussed and analyzed period in American history.

A question or a declarative statement? It could be both.

In that brief three-month period:

The Stonewall riots on June 28 and 29 by the LGBTQ community against police raids of New York’s Stonewall Inn gay establishment.

Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident on July 18 — two days after Apollo 11 lifted off on its mission to the moon.

The Tate-LaBianca murders, orchestrated by Charles Manson and his so-called “Family” on Aug. 8 and 9 in California. These tragedies were followed one week later on Aug. 15-18 by the pop culture landmark Woodstock music and arts festival in New York.

And there was this towering achievement, recounted with an eight-word lead paragraph on the Miami Herald’s front page on July 21, 1969, followed by hundreds of column inches: “Man landed and walked on the moon Sunday.”

Of course, the headline took up about a third of the page, pridefully announcing: “Man Walks on the Moon.” A smaller headline read: “A small step for man, a leap for mankind,” an abbreviated reference of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s immortal words upon becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Documentary, Miami museum events

“Apollo 11,” director Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary that features newly discovered footage of that first moon landing mission, was scheduled to premiere at 9 p.m. Sunday, June 23, on CNN with rebroadcasts on June 29 and July 20 — the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.

An IMAX large screen version, “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition,” is scheduled at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, the Orlando Science Center, the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee.

CNN Films also created a five-episode “Apollo 11: Beyond the Moon” podcast available on Apple, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher and

A special cut of “Apollo 11” has even been uplinked to the International Space Station so the crew can watch the documentary.

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum in Miami hosts special events on July 20, including Apollo 11 Day and a Member Evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Man walks on the moon

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The Miami Herald published a special section on July 13, 1969. “Apollo 11: Man’s Journey to Tomorrow” was an 11-page, detailed look at how man made it to the moon and back. Miami Herald File

Neil Armstrong likened the moon’s then-untouched territory in terms Americans back home could visualize:

“It has a stark beauty all its own, much like the high desert of the southwest United States,” Armstrong radioed from the moon’s surface to the world below. “It’s very pretty out here.”

Fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin coined it “magnificent desolation” as he stepped on the moon 20 minutes after Armstrong’s historic touchdown.

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President Nixon’s phone call

Soon after, President Richard Nixon, only seven months into his first term in the White House and contending with Vietnam War protests outside his windows, called the astronauts after they planted the American flag on the moon’s soil.

They were, by that point, practicing running and jumping on the moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin stopped to take the call.

It was, after all, “the most historic phone call ever placed,” Nixon told the two astronauts — who stood stiffly at attention to accept the president’s accolades.

“For every American this has to be the proudest day of our lives. Because of what you have done the heavens have become part of man’s world,” Nixon told Armstrong and Aldrin.

‘Epic journey’ told in Herald’s archives

As the Miami Herald assuredly gushed, “thus was completed an epic journey charted eight years ago [via President John F. Kennedy’s promise after his 1961 inauguration to send man to the moon and back] but dreamed of since man first lifted his eyes toward the heavens.”

From the Miami Herald archives, what follows is sampling of stories recounting the Apollo 11 adventure leading up to that day and a handful of published accounts on anniversary dates.

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The Miami Herald’s front page on July 21, 1969. “Man Walks on the Moon” recounted how the moon’s “landscape was like the southwest U.S.,” according to astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man who walked on the moon. Miami Herald File

Man Walks on the Moon

Published July 20, 1969

Man landed and walked on the moon Sunday.

The fragile spaceship Eagle deposited American astronaut Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin in the barren southwest corner of the Sea of Tranquility at 4:18 p.m., and 6-1/2 hours later, at 20 seconds past 10: 56 p.m., Armstrong planted his left foot on the moon.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind“ were his first words.

In his normally calm voice tremulous with excitement, the first man on the moon radioed a graphic account of history‘s greatest adventures back to Earth while a TV camera beamed live pictures of the eerie lunar landscape to a spellbound audience of millions.

Twenty minutes later, Armstrong talked Aldrin down the ladder of the Eagle onto the firm, powdery soil of Tranquility Base.

Thus was completed an epic journey charted eight years ago but dreamed of since man first lifted his eyes toward the heavens.

For two hours, 10 minutes Sunday night, there WAS life on the moon. Two-legged creatures from the planet Earth talked, walked, ran and worked on the crust of an alien world.

They returned to the lunar module it at 1:09 a.m. today. At 1:53 p.m. today, the astronauts will fire the big ascent engine to send them off the moon surface to rendezvous with the command module.

The descent stage of the lunar lander will serve as the launch platform during blast off from the moon.

Road to Tranquility Base

The road to Tranquility Base was a quarter million miles long, but the last 200 feet were the worst.

In a heart-clutching finale to an otherwise phenomenally smooth flight, Armstrong snatched control of the Eagle from a computer and flew it to a safe landing on a level, rock strewn plain pocked with thousands of small craters. If Armstrong hadn’t taken the helm, the Eagle would have fallen into a crater the size of a football field, filled with boulders that could have meant disaster.

Instead, he delayed the landing long enough to permit the Eagle to soar over the perilous crater and come to rest in virtually upright position, ideal for takeoff and the long trip home.

“Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,“ commander Armstrong said after shutting the engine off.

The landing was so gentle that the Eagle’s footpads sank barely an inch or two into the fine sand-like soil.

“It has a stark beauty all its own, like much of the high desert of the southwest United States,“ Armstrong radioed from the surface. “It’s very pretty out here.“

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In a Miami Herald special section feature on July 13, 1969, “The Stars Guide the Way,” a photo of the earth, as seen through astronauts’ sextant, shows Florida and parts of South America from space. Miami Herald File

Placing the plaque

After Aldrin was down, the two moon men unveiled a plaque attached to the side of the Eagle, reading, “We came in peace for all mankind.” The plaque will stay on the moon along with the lower part of the landing craft, after the astronauts take off this afternoon.

Then Armstrong removed the TV camera from the leg of the Eagle, where it had watched his slow, ungainly climb down the ladder into immortality.

After panning around the horizon, which clearly showed the curve of the moon, he carried it 60 feet away from the spaceship. Then he mounted it on a tripod so it could relay pictures of the rest of the moonwalk to earthlings 241,000 miles away.

Then it was time to deploy the scientific experiments and the American flag, stiffened with a rod to stand out in the airless lunar environment.

President Nixon’s phone call

As the astronauts were practicing running and jumping on the moon, President Nixon telephone them from his office in the White House.

“Hello, Neal and Buzz,“ the president said, “this has to be the most historic phone call ever placed ...

“For every American this has to be the proudest day of our lives. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world.

“As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth,“ the president said.

“For one priceless moment in the history of man, all people on earth are truly one.“

The astronauts stood stiffly at attention while the president spoke.

“Thank you, Mr. President,“ Armstrong responded. “It’s a great honor and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States of America but all nations.”

“All of us look forward to seeing you on the Hornet on Thursday,“ Nixon said.

“Thank you very much, sir,“ Armstrong said.

Moon tasks

He and Aldrin saluted the flag before returning to their tasks. These included scooping up moon dirt and rocks and deploying scientific experiments to measure the solar wind, moonquakes and the precise distance to the earth.

Moving about on the moon – which some experts thought would be difficult and dangerous – turned out to be surprisingly easy.

“There seems to be no difficulty in moving around,“ Armstrong reported while taking his first cautious steps. “It’s perhaps easier than the simulations we performed on the ground.“

Later, when he had gained confidence, Armstrong bounded about easily in the light gravity, loping around corners and hopping like a kangaroo.

With Aldrin joining him, the moon men looked like deep-sea divers in their ponderous suits and helmets at the bottom of an unknown sea.

As an unexpected bonus to the earthbound audience, the TV spectacular to beat all spectaculars was moved up three hours.

Instead of beginning their outing at 2 a.m., Armstrong and Aldrin said they wanted to go out early. After consultation, flight controllers in Houston agreed.

The moonwalk had been pushed up from a scheduled time of 2:16 a.m. today because the astronauts were too excited to sleep and too rested to need it.

Although they skipped their four-hour rest., It still took Armstrong and Aldrin more than six hours to get ready for their exploration of Tranquility Base.

They spent the first two hours after landing going through an abbreviated countdown to make sure the Eagle could blast off swiftly if an emergency developed.

Man’s first moon meal

About 6:30 p.m., they ate man‘s first meal on the moon. The menu: Bacon squares, peaches and sugar cookie cubes washed down with pineapple-grapefruit drink.

Then the astronauts wriggled into their bulky, 28-layered pressure suits and hooked up all the delicate tubes, wires and valves that protected them from the savage lunar environment. The process has been compared to getting dressed in a phone booth.

The astronauts had been impatient to be out on the moon. The Eagle had slid down to rest on the moon after Armstrong had taken over with manual operation from the computer to avoid a crater filled with large boulders that might have caused a disastrous end to the flight.

‘Eagle has landed’

“Tranquility base, here, the Eagle has landed,“ Commander Armstrong declared seconds after shutting off the Eagle’s engine.

His normally flat voice was tinged with excitement.

“OK, we’re going to be busy for a minute,“ said the new ruler of Tranquility Base.

Ahead of the moonlanders lay two hours of intense work getting the Eagle ready for sudden takeoff if trouble should arise.

They were so preoccupied with their chores that they hardly bothered to describe their surroundings to the hundreds of millions of fascinated earthlings climbing to their every syllable 241,000 miles away.

Moments later, the unflappable Armstrong was himself again.

“OK, we’re going to be busy for a minute,” said the new ruler of Tranquility Base.

Ahead of the moonlanders lay two hours of intense work getting the Eagle ready for sudden takeoff if trouble should arise.

When they cut their breath, Aldrin radioed back.

“It looks like a collection of just about every variety of shapes, angularities, granularities – just about every variety of rocks you can find.“

They said their automatic targeting system would have taken them into a crater the size of a football field, filled with large boulders and rocks.

To avoid disaster, they use the manually-controlled hovering ability of the Eagle and move to a flat area nearby.

Shortly after the landing, Mike Collins, alone in the mothership circling the moon, beamed this message to the men on the moon: “Tranquility Base, you sure sounded good here. You guys did a fantastic job!“

Eagle replied: “Roger, just keep that orbiting base up there.“

“Will do,“ Collins promised.

The astronauts admitted they weren’t quite sure, at first, where they had landed.

They radioed Houston: “The guys said that we wouldn’t be able to tell precisely where we are are the winners today.“

Then Armstrong reported: “Besides the few craters we went over on the way down, I can’t see anything on the horizon.

“You might be interested to know that I don’t think we noticed any difference at all in adapting to one-sixth G (the slight gravity on the moon).

“It seemed immediately natural to me in this environment.“

Describing the landing site

Finally, Aldrin began broadcasting a description of the landing site.

Outside of the Eagle’s windows, Aldrin said there was a relatively level plain covered with a large number of craters five to 50 feet across and some ridges 30 to 80 feet high.

“There are literally thousands of one- and two-foot craters around our area, “he said.

Several hundred sharp-edged rocks about two-feet high were also scattered across the desolate plane.

“Sounds like it looks a lot better than it did yesterday at that very low sun angle,“ radioed Collins from the Columbia, high overhead.

Explaining why the Eagle deliberately overshot its target, Collins ordered what may become one of the classic rules of spacefaring: “When in doubt, land long.“

“That’s what we did,“ the men from Eagle replied.

Aldrin described the color of the moon as a whitish, chalky gray shading to a dark ashen gray, about the same as it appeared to men in lunar orbit.

He said some of the rocks in close to the landing spot had been disturbed or fractured by the blast of the landing engine.

The inside of the broken rock was very dark gray.

“It looks like it could be basalt, “he said.

The Eagle was resting nearly flat, tipped at an angle of less than 5 degrees. It could have been tipped five or six times more steeply than that and still been able to take off safely.

The historic day

The historic day began for the astronauts at 7:06 a.m. (EDT) when earth beamed a long distance wake up call across 211,300 miles of space. They were then finishing their ninth revolution of the moon.

“Apollo 11, Apollo 11. Good morning from the black team,“ radioed spacecraft communicator Ron Evans, whose night shift, the “black team,“ had been standing guard in Houston while the moonmen slept.

“Good morning, Houston,“ a sleeping voice from space replied. “Oh my, you guys wake up early.“

“Looks like you were really sawing them away,“ Evans said.

“You are right, “said the Columbia.

Commander Armstrong had his 5-1/2 hours sleep, Buzz Aldrin five hours, and Mike Collins six — a little under plan but not enough to cause concern.

While the astronauts breakfasted, Evans read them the morning news report, which he called “The Black Bugle.“

He reported that church services around the world were mentioning Apollo 11 in their prayers. President Nixon attended a special service at the White House, to which key members of the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet were invited.

Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman read the passage from Genesis which he broadcast from lunar orbit last Christmas.

In a lighter vein, Evans passed along a request that the astronauts keep their eyes peeled for a beautiful Chinese girl with a big rabbit, who is supposed to be standing under a cinnamon tree.

A Chinese legend says the girl was banished to the moon 4,000 years ago because she stole an immortality pill from her husband.

The Black Bugle also conveyed word that a Filipino girl had won the Miss universe contest. In view of the astronauts’ fascination with figures, the newsflash included the young ladies orbital statistics – 34-1/2 23 34-1/2.

Descent to the moon

After breakfast, Aldrin climbed into the Eagle to get it ready for the descent to the moon. Armstrong followed an hour later while Collins remained in the mothership for his lonely 33-hour vigil.

Like soldiers about to go on patrol In enemy territory, the Eagle, Columbia and Houston all synchronized their watches a few seconds after 10:38.

Checking out communications links, medical recording devices, batteries and fuel supplies kept all three astronauts busy as they continued to race around the moon at an altitude averaging 69 miles.

So eager were they to get on their way that they began their carefully programmed checks almost a half hour early, and kept running ahead of schedule.

At 12:37 p.m., on the 12th turn around the moon, the spider like Eagle unfolded its legs, which it had been carrying tucked up underneath, into position for landing.

At 1:47 p.m., just as the combine spacecraft came around from the backside, a set of springs gently eased the Eagle away from the Columbia.

At 2:11 p.m., small jets in the Columbia fired to separate it from the Eagle by nearly two miles — safe distance for the upcoming landing maneuvers.

At 3:08 p.m., out of contact with the earth on the far side of the moon, the little Eagle’s 10,000 pound thrust decent engine ignited for the first time.

It slowed the landing ship, driving it back and below the Columbia, and starting it on the long fall toward the lunar surface.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong, left, Michael Collins, center, and Edwin A. Aldrin, are pictured in this 1969 Apollo II crew portrait. NASA AP

A Buzz Aldrin Column: ‘Time to boldly go into space once again’

Published July 19, 2009

On the spring morning in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh set off alone across the Atlantic Ocean, only a handful of explorer-adventurers were capable of even attempting the feat. Many had tried before Lindbergh’s successful flight, but all had failed and many lost their lives in the process.

Most people then thought transatlantic travel was an impossible dream.

But 40 years later, 20,000 people a day were safely flying the same route that the “Lone Eagle” had voyaged. Transatlantic flight had become routine.

Forty years ago this week, Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I began our quarter-million-mile journey through the blackness of space to reach the moon. Neil and I walked its dusty ancient soil, becoming the first humans to stand upon another world.

Yet today, no nation — including our own — is capable of sending anyone beyond Earth’s orbit, much less deeper into space.

For the past four years, NASA has been on a path to resume lunar exploration with people, duplicating (in a more complicated fashion) what Neil, Mike and our colleagues did four decades ago. But this approach — called the “Vision for Space Exploration” — is not visionary; nor will it ultimately be successful in restoring American space leadership.

Like its Apollo predecessor, this plan will prove to be a dead end littered with broken spacecraft, broken dreams and broken policies.

Instead, I propose a new Unified Space Vision, a plan to ensure American space leadership for the 21st century. It wouldn’t require building new rockets from scratch, as current plans do, and it would make maximum use of the capabilities we have without breaking the bank. It is a reasonable and affordable plan — if we again think in visionary terms.

On television and in movies, “Star Trek” showed what could be achieved when we dared to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” In real life, I’ve traveled that path, and I know that with the right goal and support from most Americans, we can boldly go, again.

A race to the moon is a dead end. While the lunar surface can be used to develop advanced technologies, it is a poor location for homesteading. The moon is a lifeless, barren world, its stark desolation matched by its hostility to all living things. And replaying the glory days of Apollo will not advance the cause of American space leadership or inspire the support and enthusiasm of the public and the next generation of space explorers.

I am not suggesting that America abandon the moon entirely, only that it forgo a moon-focused race.

As the moon should be for all mankind, we should return there as part of an internationally led coalition. Using the landers and heavy-lift boosters developed by our partners, we could test on the moon the tools and equipment that we will need for our ultimate destination: homesteading Mars by way of its moons.

Let the lunar surface be the ultimate global commons while we focus on more distant and sustainable goals to revitalize our space program.

Deep beneath the soils of Mars may lie trapped frozen water. Our next generation must think boldly in terms of a goal for the space program: Mars for America’s future.

I am not suggesting a few visits to plant flags and do photo ops but a journey to make the first homestead in space: an American colony on a new world.

Robotic exploration of Mars has yielded tantalizing clues about what was once a water-soaked planet. Deep beneath the soils of Mars may lie trapped frozen water, possibly with traces of still-extant primitive life forms.

Climate change on a vast scale has reshaped Mars. With Earth in the throes of its own climate evolution, human outposts on Mars could be a virtual laboratory to study these vast planetary changes. And the best way to study Mars is with the two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first at a moon orbiting Mars and then on the Red Planet’s surface.

Mobilizing the space program to focus on a human colony on Mars while at the same time helping our international partners explore the moon on their own would galvanize public support for space exploration and provide a cause to inspire America’s young students.

Mars exploration would renew our space industry by opening up technology development to all players, not just the traditional big aerospace contractors. If we avoided the pitfall of aiming solely for the moon, we could be on Mars by the 60th anniversary year of our Apollo 11 flight.

Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America’s leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon.

Yes, my vision of “Mars for America” requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space.

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. He served as the Gemini 12 mission pilot in 1966, as well as the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. His book “Magnificent Desolation” was published last month.

From left to right, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. pose in a candid shot of the Apollo 11 crew on July 24, 1969. NASA TNS

40th Anniversary: A Moment in Time, Like No Other

Published July 19, 2009

Some images remain indelible decades later: Walter Cronkite blinking back emotions as he reported the death of JFK in Dallas; Al Michaels asking hockey viewers, “Do you believe in Miracles? . . . YES!”; jubilant Germans sledgehammering the Berlin Wall; sportscaster Jim McKay, amid the massacre at Munich, uttering, “They’re all gone.”

And then there was July 20, 1969, the day man first walked on the moon. That was 40 years ago Monday, but for Jack Horkheimer, executive director of the Miami Planetarium, the memories remain vivid. He was a “science nerd” and workaholic who juggled six-day-a-week lectures at the planetarium with science segments on Skipper Chuck’s “Popeye Playhouse” and appearances on Larry King’s local radio show and Big Wilson’s Night Owl Movie.

Like most Americans, Horkheimer was mesmerized by the moon mission. And so, with the launch imminent, he hopped in a T-Bird and headed to Cape Canaveral with three friends to be an eyewitness to history. His companions included Lew Dorn, head of the Miami Science Museum, and Bill Hindman, a serious Broadway actor and Miami radio personality who later became known for playing the basketball coach in the coming-of-age movie “Porky’s.”

Horkheimer’s recollections

How did the launch of Apollo 11 affect you?

Horkheimer: “It was the single most soul-shattering moment in my existence. I realized that the world was entirely different. . . . I was a science nut in high school. But I didn’t believe we would ever get to the moon in my lifetime. People thought micrometeorite storms would tear apart any rocket that got near the moon. But John F. Kennedy, standing on the Mall in Washington, announced that we would get there in 10 years. It was a challenge to the nation.

“On Christmas Eve 1968, we circled the moon. The stage was set for Apollo 11 and the moon landing the next year.”

Describe the liftoff.

Horkheimer: “Powerful. When that rocket took off, the percussion waves against you were like somebody pushing your whole body repeatedly, almost like a machine gun. The sound was like deep-throated, monster firecrackers exploding. Hundreds of thousands of them all at once, but deeper and amplified. A magnificent sound.

“They cautioned you not to look at the exhaust, said it would be brighter than the sun. As ignition occurred, everybody started shouting G’o! Go! Gooooooo! ‘ The shout became louder and louder, almost like a chant, a Gregorian chant. Everyone around me was crying. It was unbelievable. We realized we were witnessing history.”

Take any photos or video for posterity?

Horkheimer: “No. Back in the ‘50s, I dropped my 8mm movie camera out of a cable car in Switzerland by mistake. It was one of the happiest moments of my vacation, because I knew I would not be tied to that camera anymore. I would never ever take a camera on a vacation again. I could always get a better picture from a magazine, or my memory.”

Where were you when the astronauts landed?

Horkheimer: “I was walking into my parents’ home. I had flown home to Randolph, Wisc., to edit a book for my parents, who were in the publishing business. I walked into their house just half an hour before Neil Armstrong was going to step onto the moon. Walter Cronkite was on TV. We watched together. I was totally shaken. I realized I was living in an entirely different age.”

Thoughts on the space race?

Horkheimer: “They always said the beginning of the space age was the Sputnick, but to me the moon landing was the real beginning. Everything the Soviets did, they did in secret. Our successes and our failures were done out in the open. We flew by the seat of our pants, with our pants practically down, because we wanted to show people we were an open society. They were selling bumper stickers in Cape Canaveral that said, “They’ve got the vodka, WE’VE got the Moon.” I bought some. I think I am going to take some to work with me on Monday, to show people, especially kids, what it was like.”

What is the practical application of the space program?

“The space program cost a lot of money, but I am firmly convinced that it paid for itself hundreds of times over. NASA is cellphones. NASA is satellite TV. I am a NASA champion. I don’t agree with all their programs, but I believe NASA was what hurtled us into the age of technology. It inspired people like Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, to get into tech.”

Can America ever replicate that feeling of shared mission?

Horkheimer: “You have to have a leader who is powerful enough and charismatic enough to energize people. Kennedy achieved that with the moon mission. I think America can still achieve anything, if a consensus, Republican and Democrat, is behind it. Unfortunately, that is harder to achieve today. Take energy independence. Can everybody get behind that? I don’t know. Some are for green energy. Some are for oil. Some want coal. You click on Fox, then MSNBC and CNN and they are all screaming at each other. It wasn’t that way back then.”

Jack Horkheimer ( is executive director of the planetarium at the Miami Science Museum and Planetarium and host/writer of the PBS series “Star Gazer,” now in its 33rd year. On Monday, anniversary of the landing, the planetarium will give away 8 by 10 official NASA photos from the Apollo program with each paid admission.

In this July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, the first men to land on the moon, plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. Armstrong, who died in 2012 at 82, commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of “one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. AP

Buzz Aldrin’s post-moon challenge

Published March 29, 2008

At age 78, Buzz Aldrin has the posture of a military man and can talk at length about his experience with fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong as the first humans to walk on the moon.

He and Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 and immediately became international celebrities.

He recalls following Armstrong out of the space capsule, uttering the words “magnificent desolation” and posing for the iconic pictures.

But Aldrin didn’t come to Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon to solely talk about space travel. His message was far more personal. It was about his lifelong battle against depression and alcoholism.

Unprepared for the fame and uncertain of his place in the world upon his return from space, Aldrin said he struggled for years, dropping in and out of treatment programs and claiming recovery only to relapse.

He has been sober for the past 29 years.

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Astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin, known for his historic Apollo XI moon walk, is shown in this March 28, 2008 file photo during a light moment as he talks to the press about his professional accomplishments, and his struggles with depression and alcoholism after he returned to Earth. He is speaking next to a cardboard cutout of himself on the moon. Aldrin was in Fort Lauderdale for a fundraiser, “Moonwalkin’ with Buzz,” to boost Broward Housing Solutions, a nonprofit organization that offers housing opportunities for Broward residents with mental health challenges. MARSHA HALPER Miami Herald File

Aldrin said he speaks about his past to share the message that no one is immune from depression and alcoholism — and that help is available.

“There is much more hope for people that in the past just didn’t face a good promise of recovery,” he told reporters at a press conference organized by Broward Housing Solutions, an organization that provides affordable housing for homeless people who have mental illness.

Aldrin retold his story about depression and alcoholism on Friday night as the keynote speaker at a fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale to benefit the housing organization.

Aldrin’s own depression, he said, is inherited. His mother, whose last name was Moon, killed herself, as did her father. Both of his parents drank.

Although he has been sober for nearly three decades, Aldrin called his recovery “a never-ending process.”

“I’m an engineer, and I understand a few things and how you can come pretty close to a near optimum solution,” he said. “Spirituality and human relations may not be the highest on my list of talents.”

It was his time in recovery more than his travels through space that gave him a clear vision of humankind’s place in the universe, he said.

Lisa Vecchi, CEO of Broward Housing Solutions, said Aldrin’s willingness to speak about his struggles was a reassurance to people who have had similar experiences. The message, she said, was: “You are not alone.”

A photo provided by Project Apollo Archive/NASA of seismometers being deployed on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. PROJECT APOLLO ARCHIVE NYT

The world was in awe as Apollo 11 astronauts flew to the moon

Published July 18, 1999

The moment arrived on a Sunday afternoon 30 years ago.

Five hundred million people back on Earth monitored the drama through radio and television.

At the White House, aides prepared two speeches for President Nixon. One spoke of success, one of sacrifice.

The project was risky and expensive and thrilling, and it merits another look back.

It began on May 25, 1961, with a challenge from President John F. Kennedy: The nation, he said, “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

So now, eight years later, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin searched for a smooth landing site on a barren celestial body 250,801 miles from Earth.

Fuel levels dwindled into the red zone. Alarms sounded in the cockpit and at mission control in Houston.

Finally, with less than 17 seconds of fuel for landing, the lunar module touched down at the Sea of Tranquillity.

Aldrin: “Contact light.”

Armstrong: “Shutdown.”

At 4:18 p.m., Sunday, July 20, 1969, Armstrong again clicked open his radio. He said: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

He and Aldrin shook hands.

Mission controllers resumed breathing. “Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Earthlings cheered.

At New York’s Yankee Stadium, the scoreboard flashed this message: “They’re On The Moon!” And 35,000 fans observed a moment of silence, then sang “America the Beautiful.”

Soon, Aldrin performed a Communion service using a miniature silver chalice and a wine vial he had smuggled on board.

Later, he said: “I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquillity.”

Armstrong looked through the overhead window, and he saw Earth. “It’s big and bright and beautiful,” he reported.

Skipping a preprogrammed sleep period, the astronauts suited up, and they deployed a television camera, and Armstrong emerged from the Eagle lander.

“The surface appears to be very, very fine grained as you get close to it,” he said, excitedly. “It’s almost like powder.”

As the world watched, Armstrong stepped onto the moon. It was 10:56 p.m.

He said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

He insisted later that he did not think of those words until the Eagle had landed.

For 30 years, he also insisted that he actually said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

He said the a was squelched by static.

Last Friday, he conceded that he had been wrong — he apparently left out the a .

In any event, Aldrin soon followed. “Beautiful view,” he said. “Magnificent desolation.”

Later, controllers patched through a call from the President.

“For one priceless moment in the history of man,” Nixon said, “all the people on this Earth are truly one — one in their pride in what you have done. And one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

In some ways, the most delicate part of the mission remained — liftoff from the moon.

If the rocket failed, there was no backup, no hope of rescue, and the President’s aides prepared another speech.

“These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery,” Nixon would say. “But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

The rocket worked. The men returned.

In fact, it all worked to perfection.

Thirty years ago Tuesday, the nation landed men on the moon.

An illustration by Frank Gregg published in the Miami Herald on July 13, 1969, details Apollo 11’s planned eight-day journey to the moon and back. Apollo 11 lifted off on July 16, 1969. Neil Armstrong, the pioneer moon walker, left his footprints on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Apollo 11 lifted off on July 21, 1969, and splashed down safely on July 24, 1969. Miami Herald File

‘Footsteps on the moon’: 30 years later

Published July 18, 1999

Thirty years ago this week, human beings touched another world, and the universe seemed ripe for colonization. The most monumental science and technology project in history — a bold crusade inspired by President Kennedy, fueled by $25 billion and joined by 390,000 American workers — climaxed with the first landing on the moon.

The date: July 20, 1969. Pioneer moon walker Neil Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

And six hours and 38 minutes later: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But mankind leaped no farther. Twelve American men walked on the moon — and then it was over. No one followed. No one stepped beyond. The nation lacked enthusiasm and money; the space agency lacked clout and money.

Now, on this 30th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11, astronauts and other advocates of space exploration lament the nearly three-decade hiatus in what they call an eternal human journey.

“There’s a compelling reason for society to go back to the moon,” Armstrong, 68, said Friday as he sat in the shadow of a Saturn V rocket much like the one that carried him out of this world. The most powerful rocket ever built, it weighed as much as seven Boeing 747 jumbo jets. Armstrong said humans are destined to explore the universe.

“The achievement of Apollo was the demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet.”

Said Buzz Aldrin, 69, the astronaut who joined Armstrong on the lunar surface: “There’s a reluctance right now to invest in something that might not bear fruit until the future. We need vision. We need leadership. We need a sense of value in what we achieved.”

Many predicted a lunar base by 1978, a human expedition to Mars by 1981, deeper space treks by the turn of the century.

The movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” showed space cadets boarding flights to the moon as casually as tourists board flights from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando.

Today, at the dawn of that new millennium, even astronauts can’t return to the moon.

Our most powerful rockets can barely catapult humans into Earth orbit aboard the space shuttle, a flying tractor-trailer.

Apollo 11 astronaut and mission commander Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, takes part in a ceremony at the Newseum in Arlington, Va. Tuesday, July 20, 1999 in Arlington, to mark the 30th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon. (AP Photo/Scott Maclay) SCOTT MACLAY AP

No new worlds

The next mission is scheduled to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center at 12:36 a.m. Tuesday, 30 years to the day after the first moon landing. But the astronauts will walk on no new world.

Instead, they will deploy a space telescope and, five days later, glide back to Florida.

Though few doubt the scientific value of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which will help astronomers understand the structure and evolution of the universe, many say it falls short as human exploration in the conventional sense. The mission elicits no widespread public interest. It generates no intrinsic sense of adventure or excitement, aside from the attention attracted by Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first American woman to command a space mission.

NASA administrators say billions of tax dollars have been saved by the moratorium in the human exploration program, but critics say something equally important has been lost.

“As a species we are programmed to explore,” said Donna Shirley, the former NASA manager who directed the famed Mars Pathfinder expedition. “It’s just wired into the genes. If we have no frontiers, we collapse in on ourselves.”

Eugene Cernan, the last man who walked on the moon, is one of many Apollo astronauts who complain that the nation’s budget priorities are shackling human space explorers. NASA budget slashed annually NASA’s annual budget, now $13.6 billion, has been slashed for six consecutive years, and Administrator Dan Goldin continually urges employees to join his “faster, better, cheaper” drive.

More money now flows to robotic spacecraft and other pure science projects than to human space exploration.

“You bet your life we should be going to Mars,” Cernan, 65, said last week. “The question I get more than any other is, ‘Why did we quit and when are we going back?’ “I thought we had just opened the door. I didn’t think it was the end. We had a dream, and we haven’t made that dream come true yet.”

In the wake of Apollo’s success and America’s triumph over the Soviet Union in the “space race,” NASA planners proposed an ambitious plan to exploit the technology that carried humans to the moon. They envisioned a 12-man space station and a reusable space shuttle by 1975, and a 100-person colony in the space station by 1985.

In addition, a moon base would be permanently staffed by 1978, and a Mars expedition would begin three years later. But the space shuttle didn’t fly until 1981 and the space station is just now under construction. No other element of the plan — estimated to cost many billions of dollars — is even remotely close to fruition.

At the moment, China appears to be the nation closest to landing humans on the moon.

China’s space program is cloaked in secrecy, but some experts believe it will launch an unmanned mission this fall and attempt a human landing next spring.

U.S. program languishes

What happened in the United States?

Experts point to a variety of factors: When the moon landings ended in 1972, the Vietnam War — and the dissent it ignited - were raging, and the federal budget was under severe pressure.

“Apollo was a creature of the Cold War and was premature in terms of sustainability,” said Shirley, who recently retired as manager of the Mars Exploration Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The infrastructure was simply too big to sustain in the face of the Vietnam War, and with the end of the Cold War, most of the impetus to keep the NASA-industry infrastructure was gone.”

Then, in the late 1970s, inflation spiraled upward. Few taxpayers and politicians welcomed new, expensive federal projects. Even liberal Democrats, the political heirs of John Kennedy, balked at the cost of moon colonies and Mars expeditions.

“I believe it would be unconscionable to embark on a project of such cost when many of our citizens are malnourished, when our rivers and lakes are polluted, and when our cities and rural areas are dying,” Sen. Walter Mondale, D-Minn., said at one point. “What are our values?”

Today, similar comments are often heard: How can we justify huge sums on space exploration when so much remains to be done here on Earth?

Pat Collins, wife of Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, greets Dr. George E. Mueller, associate administrator for NASA Manned Space Flight near the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Tex., July 22, 1969 for a visit. AP

Mike Collins, who remained in lunar orbit as Armstrong and Aldrin cavorted on the surface, responded to that question 10 years ago, during the 20th anniversary celebration: “We’re a nation of explorers. If we had pursued the logic that says you have to take money from the space program and put it into restoring the cities, we would never have ventured beyond Jamestown and Plymouth.” Today, ‘there is money to do it’”

Today, with federal budget deficits gone and huge surpluses predicted, many say it is time to reevaluate the nation’s space-faring priorities.

“There is money to do it,” said Norman Thagard, a retired astronaut and former resident of the Mir space station who now teaches at Florida State University. “It isn’t a question of money or technology. “It’s a question of the will to do it. You’ve got to decide to spend the money. Right now, there isn’t enough of a consensus in the country to spend money in that fashion.”

But that might be changing.

Ed O’Connor, director of Spaceport Florida Authority, the state agency responsible for attracting space industry, senses something on the horizon.

“We are beginning to see a new realm,” O’Connor said. “The budget pressure is beginning to decrease. That is going to start freeing up the ability for people to look to the stars again and say, ‘Yeah, we can now afford that.’ “ He and others note that even space shuttle blastoffs attract tens of thousands of spectators, and nearly three million people a year spend time and money at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitors complex.

In addition, NASA’s Goldin now talks openly about an eventual human mission to Mars, and the agency seems to be slowly building public enthusiasm for a multinational effort to touch the Red Planet.

Challenges yield advances

People like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, Cernan and Thagard, O’Connor and Shirley vigorously support that.

Looking back at Apollo, they say technological challenges often yield astounding advances in science, and major human crusades often yield fortified human spirits. Space exploration “lets the spirit of man soar and explore,” O’Connor said. “We are going to see a resurgence of that. Soon, we will have an outpost in Earth orbit from which we’ll prepare for one of the grandest adventures of all time.”

Collins: “We don’t have to stay on Earth. We have a choice — to stay or to go elsewhere. That’s the fundamental lesson of Apollo.”

Cernan: “Apollo should inspire our young people to do what they didn’t know they could do. That should be one of its tangible benefits. “I tell kids to take the word ‘impossible’ out of the dictionary. It doesn’t exist. I know because I once looked over my shoulder and saw my own footsteps on the moon.”

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In this handout photo provided by NASA, Apollo 11 Astronauts Michael Collins (L) and Buzz Aldrin (R) talk at a private memorial service celebrating the life of Neil Armstrong, at the Camargo Club on Aug. 31, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, died Aug. 25, 2012. He was 82. Bill Ingalls/NASA Getty Images

Where were you when man walked on the moon? Former Herald columnist Ron Ishoy reflects back at the 25-year mark

Published July 18, 1994

For baby boomers, they were big events in our young lives:

Alan Shepard blasting off into space and John Glenn making the first orbit of the earth.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Roger Maris breaking the home run record.

The Beatles.

One’s first car. In my case, a 1965 Plymouth with huge tail fins and a push-button transmission.

But there were no bigger moments in our formative years, I believe, than Neil Armstrong walking on the moon on July 20, 1969, leaving us with indelible images and those special words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Do you remember where you were? Do you remember how big a deal it was?

Many do; interestingly, some don’t.

William Dandy, retired Broward schools official: “My wife and I were on Interstate 95 coming home from the Eden Roc in Miami. It was really dramatic, it was one of the most exciting things in my life. We were listening to the radio and we pulled over to the side of the road so we could concentrate. I didn’t believe that I would ever live to see it. It was always just a dream, like the nursery rhyme when you were a kid, the one about the cow who jumped over the moon.”

Jack Nelson, Fort Lauderdale Swim Club coach: “I was probably on the pool deck at Pine Crest. I never stopped practice for special things like that. I think they’re wonderful and I was proud to be an American and thrilled that going to the moon wasn’t just a saying by Jackie Gleason. But if you stopped practicing every time there was something special like that, you never end up with any special feats yourself.”

Jim Garver, Broward Economic Development Board: “I can’t even remember where I was last week. I would have been 30 years old. I would have been running a development organization in the state of Kansas. But specifically, I have no idea. I don’t remember being conscious of it until after the fact. Now, if you were to ask me where I was when President Kennedy was shot, I could tell you exactly.”

Diana Wasserman, Broward school board member: “I was a legal secretary in Miami Beach. I remember everyone talking about it, people gathering and pondering the significance of man walking on the moon. Don’t forget, I had only come from Cuba in 1961 and this was 1969. To see the American flag flying on the moon was a very patriotic thing for me, having just become a citizen.”

Rodney Dillon, coordinator, Broward County Historical Commission: “I was a kid and our next-door neighbors who were like grandparents invited our whole family over. We had been watching the landing at our house. That night when they come out and walked on the moon, we were all sitting around glued to the TV set. I thought it was a very big deal. It was the age I was growing up in, with man going into space. To be perfectly honest with you, I still think it’s a big deal. I think it’s one of the most underrated events in our history.”

Jean Hansen, Broward GOP leader: “That’s funny. I was with my then-fiance in Vermont. That’s all I can say.”

Jim Reynolds, Broward aviation department spokesman: “I was in San Jose, Costa Rica, in a language school studying Spanish. And my friend who lived way across town had a television set. I remember that we went tearing across San Jose. We were driving in the car, trying to look at the moon and saying, ‘There’s a guy up there.’ The announcers were on the radio saying they were about to walk on the moon and we were scared we were going to miss it. It was unbelievable, putting a man on the moon, come on, that was crazy. It was practically beyond belief.”

Lorraine Thomas, civic activist and wife of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas: “It was the year we started Wendy’s — we’re celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary this year. I think we were on our way back to Columbus from Cincinnati where we had a boat. We were listening to it on the radio. It was a very big deal. Good heavens, I’d like to walk on the moon. When they start taking people there, I think I’d like to go with them.”

Nick Navarro, former Broward sheriff: “I was the agent in charge of the Orlando office for (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement). I recall someone had a small television in the insurance office next door. When Armstrong said that he was taking the small step, I had goose bumps and a sense of pride, a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Candy Colby, fitness instructor: “Let’s see, I graduated from high school in 1969. Yeah, it was a big deal, but I don’t remember exactly where I was.”

Anthony Catanese, Florida Atlantic University president: “I was sitting with my wife Sara in a restaurant in Paris when the moon landing was announced on television. The French people stood up and started cheering, and then they came over to our table and congratulated us as Americans. It was pretty exciting and a great memory to bring back from our first trip to Europe.”

Dave Menke, director of Buehler Planetarium: “I was an astronomy student in my first year of college at UCLA. I watched the landing live on TV. It was emotional and wonderfully exciting for me. I remember every moment of it, and I probably always will. Watching him jump off the ladder and saying those immortal words, I will never forget it.”

Ron Ishoy, newspaper person: I was 18 and singing with a youth choir in Europe. It was the middle of the night. All 135 of us were gathered around this small black-and-white TV in the lobby of a little dark hotel in Rome. We watched as the Italian TV commentator told us — we presumed, not knowing Italian of course — how Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were progressing. There were some fuzzy TV pictures, I remember. But when the anchorman started jumping up and down in his seat and started screaming, we knew Armstrong had made it. Italians in the lobby and out in the streets went wild. Our choir started singing “God Bless America.” We cried, the Italians cried. Everyone hugged; it was not so much an American who had stepped off onto the moon as much as it was someone had made it.

Have a great week. And if you should glance up at the moon Wednesday, allow yourself to stop a moment and marvel at what an amazing accomplishment this was for all the world, 25 years ago.

Computer error almost trips up man’s first walk on the moon

Published July 14, 1989

Exactly 20 years ago on July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon. What most people don’t know is that, thanks to several computer errors, they were seconds away from being the first humans to die on the moon.

NASA sanitized the official version of Apollo 11, according to Newsweek correspondent Harry Hurt III in his history of the Apollo space program, “For All Mankind” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $22.95).

In the celebration of the moon landing, the government didn’t want the public to know just how close the mission had come to disaster.

Here’s what actually happened:

Eight minutes before touchdown, Armstrong spotted a crater called Maskelyne W two seconds earlier than he expected. He realized that the lunar module’s computer guidance system was off, and the craft was almost two miles off course.

The spacecraft was traveling at 3,000 miles per hour. If it missed the landing site by just six miles, the mission would have to be aborted.

To make matters worse, the on-board computer suddenly flashed “1202,” a warning signal that meant “executive overload.”

The problem was that the computer had two important tasks to do at the same time.

First, it was trying to find a suitable touchdown site in the Sea of Tranquility. Second, it had to find a route back to the mother ship in case the mission was aborted. Armstrong took over the controls himself when the spacecraft got down to 2,500 feet, and the computer flashed “1201,” another computer overload.

The lander was moving too quickly toward the moon, and it was going to overshoot the designated landing site by four miles. Not only that, but it was running out of fuel.

At that point, the usually unflappable Armstrong broke into a cold sweat and registered a pulse reading of 156 beats per minute.

Armstrong cruised around looking for a “parking place.”

At 200 feet over the moon’s surface, he finally found one. Mission control radioed that 60 seconds of fuel remained. With 30 seconds of fuel, the craft was still descending.

Finally, with 18 seconds of fuel remaining, it touched down and Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

That was truly one small step for man, but one giant leap backward for computing.

RIP Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, member of Apollo 11 and the first man to walk on the moon, died in Cincinnati at age 82 of complications from a cardiovascular procedure on Aug. 12, 2012.

“His achievement offers America a reminder of itself,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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