Fifty years ago, the world was transfixed by a single event — the first time man walked on the moon. The date was July 20, 1969, and the Apollo 11 mission resulted in a landing on the moon in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility. The mission had launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida four days earlier. Neil Armstrong was the first astronaut to set foot on the moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins kept the command module in the moon’s orbit.
Here is a selection of some of the newspaper pages Calgarians read in the Herald, regarding the historic event:
Tuesday, July 15, 1969: Space program leaders and the astronauts expressed confidence in the upcoming mission, but one of the main organizers of the program, Wernher von Braun, admitted while he, too, was confident in the mission’s success, things can go wrong: “All of us in this program have done our jobs. All we can do now is pray.”
Wednesday, July 16, 1969: Blast off! The rocket leaves earth as planned and that day’s late City edition of the Calgary Herald carries the news. Before liftoff, the three astronauts had the traditional Apollo breakfast of orange juice, steak, scrambled eggs, toast and coffee. The men were reported as being “up and charging and ready to go.” They reported all rocket systems functioning, as they headed into space.
Another story in that day’s Herald noted that a Quebec machine shop superintendent, Fernand Michon, had built the landing gear for the lunar module. Of the task, Michon said, “I just did my job and, besides, I’ve had to work on much tougher assignments in the past.” He was employed by Heroux Machine Shops, which competed against eight American companies for the contract. Company president Jesse Turner said the Canadian bid got the contract because Michon devised a special tool to make the lunar module’s four 12-foot-long legs, which were created of aluminum-magnesium alloy.
Thursday, July 17, 1969: Apollo 11 passed the half-way mark of its journey to the moon, with the astronauts reporting earth looked “elegant” behind them. In anticipation of a successful landing, U.S. President Richard Nixon proclaimed July 20 to be a national day of participation, giving federal employees the day off. Many governors and mayors followed suit, declaring July 20 a holiday so all Americans could share the significant events of the day.
Friday, July 18, 1969: The astronauts used a TV camera to take the world on a tour of their spacecraft, calling it “a happy home.” A sidebar story told the tale of a British sci-fi fan named David Threlfall, then 26, who in 1964 had bet almost an entire week’s wages (about 10 British pounds) that man would land on the moon before the end of the decade. The odds were 1,000 to 1, so his payout was 10,000 pounds (about 139,125 pounds in today’s currency or $227,000 CDN.) The bookmaker who took the bet said he’d accepted the wager as a joke, never thinking he’d actually need to pay it out.
Saturday, July 19, 1969: Apollo 11 began orbiting the moon, getting ready for a landing. Armstrong and Aldrin would each be carrying enough oxygen for three hours, but their scheduled stays on the moon’s surface would be two hours 40 minutes, and two hours 10 minutes, respectively, while they conducted experiments and gathered rock samples.
Monday, July 21, 1969: At 7:56 p.m. (MST) Sunday, July 20, 1969, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. He uttered the famous phrase, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” although debate over the years indicates the word “a” was actually said, but not transmitted properly or heard, meaning that phrase was: “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” On July 21, Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off from the moon’s surface and later reconnected with the command ship that Collins had been commanding while circling the moon.
The Herald reported that in Calgary, streets were generally quiet as people gathered around television sets to watch the historic event. Some folks, however, threw moon-landing parties and when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, there were shouts of joy, confetti was thrown in the air and horns were honked downtown. People who were in restaurants and hotel lobbies gathered around TVs to watch the event, while at the Palliser Hotel, the visiting Toronto Argonauts had a television set up in the penthouse so they could watch the moonwalk while eating a meal.
Tuesday, July 22, 1969: The Apollo 11 astronauts were heading home. Program leader Wernher von Braun said it was too early to celebrate, “but I think we are probably over the hump.”
Thursday, July 24, 1969: The astronauts landed safely, just one mile from a planned target point in the Pacific Ocean. The trip lasted eight days, three hours and 10 minutes. “Once the astronauts were given biological garments to put on and were sprayed with disinfectant, they were lifted into the rescue helicopter and were on the (carrier) Hornet’s flight deck within an hour.” The men were then put in a mobile quarantine facility; President Nixon was on hand to talk to them through a special telephone set-up. He congratulated them, invited them to a future White House dinner and said this was the greatest week in the history of the world “since the creation.”