The First Men on the Moon

On 17 December 1903 on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright achieved the first flight in a ‘heavier than air’ machine. On 20 May 1927 Charles Augustus Lindbergh took off in Spirit of St Louis at the start of the first successful solo flight across the Atlantic, tracing the ‘great circle’ route from New York to Paris. On 12 April 1961 Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man to orbit Earth. In response, the following month President John F. Kennedy challenged his own nation to land a man on the Moon before the decade was out – and on 16 July 1969 Apollo 11 set off to do so.

By demonstrating that it was feasible to land on the Moon, it cleared the way for the later missions that undertook more ambitious lunar surface activities. Yet Apollo was an anachronism – an element of 21st century exploration provoked by the geopolitical tensions of the 1960s. When Sir Arthur C. Clarke was asked what event in the 20th century he would never have predicted, he said: ‘‘That we would have gone to the Moon and then stopped.’’ Nevertheless, at the time of Apollo 11 the Moon was viewed merely as the first step. At a press conference just beforehand, Thomas O. Paine, NASA’s Administrator, said: ‘‘While the Moon has been the focus of our efforts, the true goal is far more than being first to land men on the Moon, as though it were a celestial Mount Everest to be climbed. The real goal is to develop and demonstrate the capability for interplanetary travel.’’ This task remains to be fulfilled. In 2004 President George W. Bush directed NASA to resume human lunar exploration as a stepping stone to Mars. Perhaps by the time of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, mankind will once again be able to enjoy the excitement of a lunar landing.

As the mission of Apollo 11 is a story of exciting times, f have drawn on the mission transcript to recreate the drama. Quotations have been edited for clarity, for brevity, and to eliminate the intermingling that is characteristic of spontaneous conversation, but f have endeavoured to preserve the sense of the moment.

David M Harland July 2006


I would like to thank: Frank O’Brien, W. David Woods, Robert Andrepont, Ken MacTaggart, Hamish Lindsay, Gene Kranz, Gerry Griffin, Dave Scott, Mark Gray, Mick Hyde, Rich Orloff, Mike Gentry, Ed Hengeveld, Eric Jones, Stanley Lebar, Kipp Teague, Marc Rayman and, last but not least, Clive Horwood of Praxis.

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