National Days

One Giant Leap — Apollo 11

On this day in 1969: The Apollo 11 moon landing — American Exceptionalism!

Mark Alexander · Jul. 20, 2018

In 1961, the Cold War was heating up, and we were gravely concerned that the USSR’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 four years earlier would result in Soviet domination of space — a major national security threat. John F. Kennedy, determined to take the lead, declared in a speech to Congress, “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.”

On July 16, 1969 (years before the age of super-computer modeling and design), NASA launched Apollo 11, manned by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, from Kennedy Space Center to the moon — a 238,900 flight, one way. They flew the combined North American Rockwell command module Columbia, and Grumman lunar module Eagle, atop a huge Saturn V Rocket. Armstrong was a Naval aviator and Aldrin and Collins were both Air Force pilots. Aldrin had a PhD from M.I.T. and was integral in development concepts for the mission.

On July 20th, mission commander Armstrong and pilot Aldrin separated the Eagle from Columbia, which remained in orbit 57 miles above the Moon’s surface.

At 20:17 UTC, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle on the moon. After a perilous descent and nearing exhaustion of their fuel supply, the Eagle touched down. Armstrong announced to the world, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Charles Duke, CAPCOM during the landing operation, acknowledged their landing, saying, “Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot!” (In 1972, Duke would commanded the Apollo 16 mission, becoming the tenth of 12 astronauts to walk on the moon before NASA discontinued the moon missions.)

On the Moon’s surface, Buzz Aldrin recounted: “A little while after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. Now was the moment for communion. So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the Scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer … Then I called back to Houston. ‘Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way’ … I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”

Aldrin continued: Just before I partook of the elements, I read the words, which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ … I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.I read: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’“

Six hours after landing, Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, joined by Aldrin 20 minutes later.

As he stepped from the Eagle’s ladder to the Moon, Armstrong said famously, "That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The two men explored the moon for about two hours and 15 minutes, collecting 21.5 kgs of lunar material and deploying an American flag.

Before departing the Moon, Armstrong broadcast to the world, “To all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.”

After 21 hours and 37 minutes on the lunar surface, they launched the Eagle back into space to reunite with Collins in the command module Columbia. (Take a 3D tour of Columbia’s interior and exterior.) Together they returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific on July 24th.

In his memoirs, Charles Duke wrote of his mission: “In 1972 aboard Apollo 16, I saw with my own eyes what is written in the Scriptures. In Isaiah 40:22 it says ‘It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.’ And in Job 26:7, it is written ‘He hangeth the earth upon nothing.’ Who told Isaiah that the earth was a circle? … And how did the writer of Job know that the earth hung upon nothing? … This is the Lord I love and serve. This is the Lord who transformed by life. This is the Lord who transformed my marriage. … I used to say I could live ten thousand years and never have an experience as thrilling as walking on the moon. But the excitement and satisfaction of that walk doesn’t begin to compare with my walk with Jesus, a walk that lasts forever. I thought Apollo 16 would be my crowning glory, but the crown that Jesus gives will not tarnish or fade away. His crown will last throughout all eternity … Not everyone has the opportunity to walk on the moon, but everybody has the opportunity to walk with the Son. It costs billions of dollars to send someone to the moon, but walking with Jesus is free, the Gift of God. ‘For by Grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.’”

Faith was an attribute which some of the Apollo astronauts wrote about boldly.

Today, 49 years after Armstrong stepped on the moon, private-sector space launches are dominating the skies, and after years of planning, the USAF’s Space Command is preparing to transition into a new military branch, U.S. Space Force.

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