July 1969: World celebrates lunar landing

Posted 7/19/19

Jasper Mayor Herman Maddox was less than three miles from Apollo 8 when it blasted off for the moon in December 1968."When you're there, it seems like you have a part in it," Maddox told the Daily …

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July 1969: World celebrates lunar landing


Jasper Mayor Herman Maddox was less than three miles from Apollo 8 when it blasted off for the moon in December 1968.

"When you're there, it seems like you have a part in it," Maddox told the Daily Mountain Eagle on July 16, 1969. "The land is so flat it looks like you can reach out and touch it even though you're over two miles away...The earth trembles like an earthquake and a blast of hot air hits you in the face moments after the powerful engines ignite. You just can't believe how slowly the craft leaves the launching pad and creeps past the gantry. But then it really starts to move."

Maddox watched the launch of Apollo 11 that day on television like millions of other Americans. The morning broadcast was a sample of the 31 hours of nonstop coverage that the networks would offer for the lunar landing. 

Those who looked up at the moon that week with the knowledge that two men would soon be walking around on it must have wondered if it would look the same for their children or grandchildren.

The Eagle published a full-page map of the moon on July 16 and encouraged readers to save it for posterity.

The caption suggested that scientific stations would be established on the moon as a result of the Apollo missions. The wives and children of the scientists were expected to join them. A 41-year-old hotel executive said that he firmly believed a lunar hotel would be opened on the moon in his lifetime.

The next day, Eagle readers learned that the world was as excited about the launch of Apollo 11 as the United States.

The exception was China, where 700 million residents were reportedly kept in the dark about the mission.

Even the Russians sent well-wishes.

"And so Apollo 11 is off! Let us wish its courageous crew a happy voyage and full success," the Communist party newspaper, Pravda, reported. 

A Moscow office manager said, "You are entitled to all the necessary credit, but you still cannot take away from us that Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was our boy."

Even before those historic footsteps had been planted, there were critics of the mission.

"It's a waste of energy, money and men," said Jane Yardley, 53, of London. "It's just a race between the Americans and the Russians."

Thomas Bergovist, 22, of Stockholm, agreed: "The whole Apollo project is ridiculous, an enormous waste of money. The Americans are always trying to prove they are the biggest and best in the world."

The Eagle's editors rejected such criticism in a July 18 editorial.

"If ever man rejects the deep challenges because they are immediately impractical, something important will have gone out of life. The fruits of adventure pay unpredictable dividends," the editorial read. "To summon a commonplace example, there was no practical reason for Lindbergh to fly the Atlantic since boats were available, but he flew it and the world was never the same again. So with the moon trip. Nobody knows where it will end if it is successful, but it had to be done simply because man was capable of doing it."

Most of the July 21 front page (the Eagle's first issue since Friday, July 18) was dedicated to coverage of the lunar landing.

"Astros ready to come home: Splashdown due Thursday," the lead headline proclaimed.

A second wire story reported on the phone call between the astronauts and President Richard Nixon.

"For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this earth are truly one — one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth," Nixon told the Apollo 11 crew.

The Eagle was also quick to remind readers of the role that north Alabama had played in advancing the space program. Rep. Tom Bevill appeared in a photo with NASA administrator Thomas Paine. The two were examining a model of the Saturn 5 rocket, which had been developed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Monday, July 21, was a "space holiday" in Alabama. City and county offices were closed. 

Congress was in session, however. The Rev. Edward G. Latch mentioned the lunar landing in his prayer.

"Grant that we may wisely interpret the meaning of this event and be given insight into Thy great and gracious purpose for all mankind. While we look at the moon and are moved by the magnificence of this mission, may we also look at the miseries of men on this planet and seek to master them that all may live with dignity, respect and goodwill," he prayed.

This version of history is the one we have, but there are always alternate histories that could have been written. 

In the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is the statement written by speechwriter William Safire in the event that Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin were stranded on the moon.

It reads as follows:

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.