Day the World Stood Still to Watch Man on the Moon; 40 Years after Neil Armstrong's Historic Landing, the Magic of Space Exploration Remains

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), July 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

Day the World Stood Still to Watch Man on the Moon; 40 Years after Neil Armstrong's Historic Landing, the Magic of Space Exploration Remains


Byline: Brian McIver

FORTY years ago, the world stopped turning just for a minute, and everyone looked up.

Schools and workplaces in America came to a halt, while little boys and girls across Scotland were dragged out of their beds to see the most important footprint in the history of the human race being set into the lunar dust.

At 3am on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong lowered himself down gently from the Eagle lander and became the first human on the moon.

While the giant leap for mankind didn't quite herald the era of space travel for all that many predicted, it was the first time the whole world joined together to celebrate something so amazing and positive.

Armstrong, an Ohio-born fighter pilot turned astronaut, was quickly followed on to the moon's surface by his fellow space travellers Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. But it was 39-year-old Neil who became the ultimate icon in human exploration, and the most famous First in our history.

A few years later, Armstrong enjoyed another big first when he brought Scotland right into the space age by acknowledging his important Scots roots, and visited his ancestral family seat in Langholm, becoming the first and only man to receive the freedom of the tiny Borders town.

The landing was the culmination of the space race between the USA and the USSR, and arrived just in time to meet the late President Kennedy's bold ambition when he said in his State of the Union speech in 1961: "I believe that this nation 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."

Armstrong was five months ahead of schedule when he landed, but the mission was the culmination of billions of dollars, many years' work and several lost lives along the way.

NASA was founded in 1958, and utilised all the rocket propulsion technologies developed on both sides duringWorld War II, to take aircraft design to a stellar level, withWernher von Braun, the German who invented theV2 rocket bombs for Hitler, leading the NASA rocket research.

Test pilots who had helped break the sound barrier pushed things along further, and the Mercury Project saw John Glenn orbit the earth in 1962, aboard the craft Friendship 7. However, the Americans' progress was dwarfed by the Soviet's Sputnik in 1961, whenYuri Gagarin became the first man in space. But Kennedy's drive saw the bar raised to include the target of a moon landing, and the Apollo programme was launched following the President's statement of ambition.

By 1969, the programme had cost America $25 billion (approaching $150 billion in modern currency) and three lives, when Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger B. Chaffee, died in a training accident aboard Apollo 1.

But the tragedies only spurred the rocket scientists and test pilots on, and with the successful development of the Saturn rockets working better over the years, the eleventh Apollo mission was set up to be the fateful journey. The public excitement for the mission was building all the time.

While few in the west had any idea what the USSR's Cosmonaut programme was behind the iron curtain, the NASA progress was being followed with a public excitement.

When Apollo 8 pilot Jim Lovell (famous for his role in the Apollo 13 mission several years later) broadcast to television live from space on Christmas Eve 1968, after orbiting the earth and the moon, the stage was set for something big.

Apollo 11 took off from Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, and a few hours later, the command module and lunar lander separated from the SaturnV rockets, and continued on their way to the moon.

IT reached moon orbit on July 19, and a day later, the Eagle lander detached from the Columbia command module, leaving pilot Michael Collins in orbit, while Aldrin and Armstrong descended. …

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