Forty years ago, Americans who had access to a television all held their collective breath as Apollo 11, launched from Cape Kennedy carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. The destination? The Moon, over 218,000 miles away from earth.

This destination had been in the works for nearly a decade, since President Kennedy boldly announced:

“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.”

Ironically, tonight Space Shuttle Endeavor finally launched, after 5 or so delays because of bad weather or equipment issues. As it climbed its way into space, leaving the constraints of earth, gravity and all the thing we know, I was reminded of how fearful and frightening these space ventures still are. While much has changed in 40 years, some things remain the same. The trip is still extremely risky. Escaping earth is death-defying. Returning to earth, even more so. Since those early space pioneers first left earth for the Moon, America has lost 2 missions and entire crews.

The fact that those brave men accomplished their mission and returned to earth is a miracle in itself. I am still in awe of their accomplishments and will never forget the fear we all felt every time there was a rocket launched. In addition to fear, we all felt a tremendous amount of pride in America’s accomplishments.

The space race all took place during the Cold War. America had lost face in 1959. It had not been first. The Russians had beaten us by having the first satellite, Sputnik, orbit the earth. Now, a decade later, as Apollo 11 lifted from Earth, we all waited with baited breath, glued to our televisions. Would they land on the moon, or would they overshoot their target? Would they keep on going, never to be heard from again? Would they be able to land the craft? Would they meet some unexpected horror outside the Eagle? Would they be able to escape the Moon’s gravity? Would they be able to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere?

Notice the faces of the the onlookers. The expressions show the fear, the pride, the uncertainty of the mission. Did those faces we see in the video from 40 years ago look the same as those who watched the Endeavor launch last night?

This Apollo thread is dedicated to all of us who remember that day:

Second Alamo, Censored, Marie, Ivan

Leave me a note if I left you out because I thought you were too young 😉

Adding the following youngsters: Gainesville Resident


62 Thoughts to “Apollo 11– 40 Years Ago Today”

  1. kelly3406

    I was a little guy, but I too remember Apollo 11. My family had just moved and I was concerned about setting up TV for good reception before the big event.

    I was very excited about the whole space program. I had a toy rocket that could be “launched” after filling it with water and pumping air in it to increase the pressure. It would rise to 25-30 feet in altitude at which time the capsule would fall gently to earth under a plastic parachute. I must have launched that thing 1000s of times.

    It is amazing how such a simple toy could capture the essential physics of the operation. If the launch angle was not correct, the “rocket” could interfere with the capsule and the parachute, resulting in a catastrophic return to Earth. That’s not really too different than the current issue with the foam strikes on the Endeavor.

  2. Moon-howler

    That sounds like a pretty fancy toy. How long did it take to set up for a launch? I am thinking my brother had some gizmo that sort of sounds like what you described.

    Have you seen October Sky, Kelly?

  3. kelly3406

    It took took a few minutes to set up for a launch — I of course had to do the full countdown and make my siblings watch. I set up a little rubber pool to look like the lagoon at Cape Canaveral …. the “spectators” had to sit on the other side of the lagoon in case of launch failure.

    I have not seen October Sky, but I will look it up. I am not familiar with the movie.

  4. Moon-howler

    LOL I am glad you made them sit in a safe spot. They could have lost an eye at least!

    You will really like October Sky. It is from the Rocket Boys novels and Homer Hickman of NASA, formerly of Coalwood, WEST VA. It is one of my all time favorite movies. Don’t be put off by Jake Gyllenhaal as the star.

    I can remember going out at night trying to see satellites go overhead. I only saw one a few times but it was exciting!

  5. Gainesville Resident

    Definitely go watch October Sky – lots of model rocket launches, etc. in there! The book it is based on is good too but has a different name – so look it up by the author Homer Hickman – it is a true account of his childhood. Anyway, I’ve seen October Sky several times, but could watch it again actually! Very entertaining and interesting film.

    MH – will have to send you a link that shows when to look for the space station. Just plug in where you live, and it shows what nights it passes overhead, and gives where to look in the sky, the duration of the passage, etc. Several times a month there’s good viewing opportunities, and it is VERY easy to spot. It is kind of exciting the first time you see it – and realize you are watching it going by, etc. Looks like a very bright slow moving object in the sky – obviously in orbit and going from east to west – but sometimes southeast to northwest, sometimes southeast to southwest – depends on where it is in relation to you – as to duration. Some really good overhead passes can take 3 to 4 minutes for it to go from “space station rise” to “space station set”. Ones that aren’t so overhead – go lower in the horizon at their peak, and last only 1 or 2 minutes. Anything less than that isn’t worth looking for – will be too low in the horizon. Sometimes though it passes almost 90 degrees overhead – that is straight up at its peak!

  6. Gainesville Resident

    Here’s that link I was referring to:

    Just click on your state and city, and it will show you passes for the ISS (International Space Station) as well as the Space Shuttle when it’s in orbit.

    Right now on 7/25 (one week from today) there’s a really good ISS sighting starting at 8:59 PM and lasting for 4 minutes, and peaks at 44 degrees above the horizon.

    Also the following night is a Space Shuttle night – starting at 9:22 PM lasting for 3 minutes, but peaking at 47 degrees above the horizon.

    Those are the next two sightings I’d recommend looking for. There’s some other pages that let you look for other satellites, but this is the official NASA website and is easy to use.

  7. Moon-howler

    And you will remind us when this happens, won’t you, GR?

    It has been a long time since I have done this and I lived in the boonies. Can you see man-made satellites with all the lights from a city?

  8. Gainesville Resident

    You’re right – I’ll have to remind you as next weekend approaches! Yes, the space station is one of the brightest objects in the sky when it goes overhead – maybe almost as bright as Venus. You can easily see Venus, even where I used to live. So you can easily see the space station too. I must confess, at my old house I didn’t do much stargazing – for one thing at night there in recent years, I didn’t feel so safe outside after dark! Anyway, the space station as it has been constructed has gotten bigger and brighter in the night sky. I’m quite sure it would be easily seen in Manassas, or anyplace else in the area here. I’ve seen it very easily out here in Gainesville, but there is a little bit less light pollution out here – the nighttime sky is just a bit more favorable for stargazing than it was at my old house. Although, it is not perfect, and even 15 miles further west of here it gets even better. Still, I doubt you’d have any problems seeing it in Manassas – for a pass that goes fairly high up in the sky, like the one this coming Saturday evening. If you miss that one, there’s lots of opportunities usually – 2 or 3 a month that are really good ones, on average. The space shuttle is obviously a bit harder to spot, and because it isn’t in orbit for very long, the viewing opportunities are less.

    There’s satellites that can be seen too, but they are harder to spot. Anyway, the space station is where to start – and since it now is very big – it is a very bright object in the sky as it moves across. Looks like a very fast moving star going across the sky, in a span of 4 minutes max, or maybe 5 minutes if you really are lucky and it goes straight overhead. The pass next Saturday isn’t straight overhead, as it peaks at about 44 degrees above the horizon – but it’s still a pretty good pass. There will be better ones in the months ahead, and of course the space station isn’t going anywhere (well until 2016 when it is slated for destruction, sadly – I think that’s a real waste – but that’s the current plan!).

  9. Moon-howler

    I am counting on your to remind us.

    I looked at the link. Did I read the chart correctly? Will it be possible to see the International Space Station and the shuttle both at the same time or around the same time?

    Do the degrees work like normal? 44 degrees is about half way up? I don’t understand the direction to look. Perhaps GR will be kind enough to do a self help guide for me to post as a thread before the fireworks next Sat. Night.

  10. GainesvileResident

    Yes, until the space shuttle departs, really they are both visible at the same time, and actually really just look like ONE bright object in the sky. The space shuttle chart assumes everything will go on schedule – in the past we’ve seen it get delayed and depart the space station later than planned. i think though NASA must update those listings pretty often.

    That’s right MH – 90 degrees would be straight up – so 44 degrees is halfway off the horizon in the stated direction. Just turn to that direction, and look halfway up. That’s at the peak of the pass right smack in the middle of that 4 minute period. Before that though you should see it “rise” in the direction it mentions in the chart.

    We can talk this through again as the weekend gets closer, and also as we find out if the weather will cooperate! If not though, there will be many other opportunities in the near future. Fortunatley, it isn’t like a lunar eclipse where sometimes the next opportunity isn’t for a couple of years. Usually here, there’s at least one good opportunity a month, if not more. For people willing to stay up late at night, or get up very early in the morning – there’s even more opportunities, but I only look for ones not too late at night, usually. I’m personally not terribly interested in standing outside at 2 AM in the morning – i just don’t have the energy for that. And while I get up early, Im’ still not interested in going outside at 5 AM in the morning or something!

  11. Censored bybvbl

    Ack. It’ll probably just skirt the tree-line for me.

    I’m one who will get up at 2:00am for meteor showers. They remind me of my childhood when we’d lay on a blanket in the backyard and watch the “shooting stars”. I’m a sucker for them whenever they’re forecast.

  12. Moon-howler

    One used to be able to go to the battlefield for these events. Grrrrrrr.

    I am going to check out the new picnic grounds mentioned by Pinko. I expect people are locked out at dusk. The old picnic grounds were perfect. Plenty of parking and very out in the open so safety wasn’t an issue.

    I agree Censored! Some of the best ‘shooting stars’ weren’t during the showers though.

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