The Apollo 11 Moon Mission: What That 'One Small Step' Means 50 Years On

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Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit is unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit is unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

With Jane Clayson

3,2,1 ... liftoff. We celebrate the moon mission at 50 and look at the future of space exploration.


Alex Stuckey, NASA, science and environment reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Co-host of the Chronicle’s podcast “Cigarettes and Rocket Fuel,” a week-by-week dramatization of the 1969 Apollo missions and the U.S.-Soviet space race. Pulitzer Prize winner. (@alexdstuckey)

Andrew Chaikin, space historian. Author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts." (@andrewchaikin)

From The Reading List

Houston Chronicle: "The 'other' Apollo missions: Despite cutbacks at NASA, final six Apollo missions leave legacy after Apollo 11" — "There were countless 'firsts' after Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in July 1969 — it’s inevitable when a country is exploring a celestial body for the first time.

"First golf ball hit on the moon, a line driver sent into the universe by Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard in February 1971.

"First drive on the moon, a bumpy jaunt across the lunar surface piloted by Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott six months later.

"And of course, first scientist on the moon, a feat accomplished in 1972 by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt at a time when spacemen were primarily military test pilots.

"But as is typical with everything new, the moon missions became less exciting and the American people started to lose interest after the historic moonwalk.

"'I think that the blush went off the rose after Apollo 11 and you would expect it would, because man had been looking up at the moon for as long as man was on Earth, wondering what it was and why it was there,' Chris Kraft, NASA’s first mission control flight director, told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year."

Houston Chronicle: "It's going to be a while before NASA has a true cost estimate for the moon 2024 plan" — "NASA won't have a budget plan for its 2024 moon trip to Congress until February — almost a full year after the Trump administration announced it wanted to return to the moon four years earlier than planned.

"Agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine broke the news to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at a hearing Wednesday after several members expressed concern about money for the newly named Artemis project.

"'NASA has yet to deliver a Congressional budget for the mission and it's difficult to approve a mission if you don't know the total cost,' said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington."

Washington Post: "Opinion: Apollo 11’s achievement still dazzles" — "Thirty months after setting the goal of sending a mission 239,000 miles to the moon, and returning safely, President John F. Kennedy cited a story the Irish author Frank O’Connor told about his boyhood. Facing the challenge of a high wall, O’Connor and his playmates tossed their caps over it. Said Kennedy, 'They had no choice but to follow them. This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space.' Kennedy said this on Nov. 21, 1963, in San Antonio. The next day: Dallas.

"To understand America’s euphoria about the moon landing 50 years ago, remember 51 years ago: 1968 was one of America’s worst years — the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinated, urban riots. President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, vow to reach the moon before 1970 came 43 days after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter outer space and orbit the Earth and 38 days after the Bay of Pigs debacle. When Kennedy audaciously pointed to the moon, the United States had sent only a single astronaut on a 15-minute suborbital flight."

CNN: "For Apollo 11's moon landing anniversary, the Washington Monument was made to look like a rocket" — "The Washington Monument just got even more iconic.

"On Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, the 555-foot national symbol lit up with an image of the moon-bound shuttle blasting into space.

"The 363-foot projection of the Saturn V rocket will appear for two hours every night during the anniversary of the mission that put the first two humans — both Americans — on the moon.

"On Friday and Saturday, the celebration of this historical milestone will culminate in a 17-minute light show taking viewers back to July 16, 1969 when Apollo 11 made its giant leap for mankind from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

"And yes, that is a 40-foot-wide re-creation of the famous Kennedy Space Center countdown clock at the monument's base."

Slate: "Why Do So Many Americans Believe the Moon Landing Was Fake?" — "This week’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing brought back memories of watching the event 'live' in a Berkeley, California, coffeehouse during that fateful year of 1969. Not that we really saw it: CBS News had set up an animated approximation of what was happening 238,000 miles out into space. As the simulated lunar lander drew ever closer to the moon surface, Walter Cronkite removed his glasses.

"When Walter Cronkite took off his horn rims, you knew it was going to be big. He’d done it six years earlier to announce President John F. Kennedy’s death in Dallas. Now Cronkite was positively giddy. He’d cut his reportorial teeth covering the depths of human depravity at the Nuremberg trials, but he was still the son of a Midwestern dentist who’d grown up with the wonder of the intergalactic exploits of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and the rest.

"'Oh, boy,' America’s most trusted man exclaimed. 'Oh, boy. Man on the moon!'

"Back in Berkeley, drinking our espresso, flush with the shaggy bloom of youth (I’d just turned 21, everyone had just turned 21), we were unimpressed. It wasn’t that we’d grown up indifferent to the 'Space Program.' When I was 9, the fact that the Soviet Sputnik was circling the globe while U.S. rockets fizzled on the launchpad haunted my dreams. When JFK made his famous speech in 1962, exhorting a packed football stadium at Rice University in Houston, 'We choose to go to the moon … not because it is easy but because it is hard,' it was an article of faith. As John Glenn orbited the Earth, I walked home from junior high school feeling exalted. 'We' had a guy up there, a shining light in the darkness of space."

Los Angeles Times: "How the women of NASA made their mark on the space program" — "The Civil Rights Act had just passed and the slide rule was giving way to computers when Frances 'Poppy' Northcutt arrived at NASA’s Houston campus in 1965, eager to join the space race. But her job title stunned her: 'computress.'
Northcutt, then 22 and fresh out of the University of Texas at Austin with a mathematics degree, soon learned that at NASA, men were engineers, women 'computresses' or 'human computers,' with less status and less pay.

"But Northcutt persevered, and three years later, during the Apollo 8 mission, she would become the first woman to work in Mission Control.

"As the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches, Northcutt and other women who helped America’s space efforts are reflecting on their often unheralded roles — and the indignities they endured. Many were lone pioneers, fighting behind the scenes to not only build their own careers, but to advance those of other women and minorities at NASA."

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on July 19, 2019.



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