I heard those words forty-four years ago today. The memory of hearing them still gives me chills – and brings a tear to my eye.
They were spoken by Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander of Apollo 11, as his response to a query from “Mission Control” at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, TX (it was not renamed the Johnson Space Center until 1973). They were spoken shortly after the Lunar Excursion Module Eagle had landed on the surface of moon in the Sea of Tranquility – becoming Tranquility Base.
They were among the first words spoken by a human while on the surface of another world – Luna, our moon. They were, however, not the first words uttered by a human while on the surface of the moon. That historical honor goes either to the announcement by Eagle’s Pilot Edwin Aldrin of “Contact light!” on receiving an indication that one of Eagle’s footpad probes had touched the lunar surface, or to one of several statements made by either Aldrin or Armstrong while executing the post-landing checklist a few seconds later as Eagle was settling onto the surface of the moon.
The Apollo 11 crew consisted of one civilian NASA employee – Neil Armstrong – and two USAF officers assigned to NASA, Edward Aldrin and Michael Collins. All three had a military aviation background, and all had served as test pilots before being selected for NASA’s astronaut program. All three had been NASA astronauts for several years prior to the Apollo 11 mission; each had previously orbited the earth.
Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon in Eagle. The third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins, remained with the Apollo 11 command module Columbia in orbit during the landing.
The story of the Apollo 11 mission is well-known; I won’t re-hash the details. The same is true of the crew’s post-astronaut lives.
However, that day – and their accomplishment – are indeed worth remembering.
As a related diversion, this article details a number of fascinating and little-known facts concerning the Apollo 11 mission; it’s worthwhile reading. But IMO, it missed one of the more interesting little-known facts about the mission: all three Apollo 11 crew members were born the same year (1930).
Two of the crew of Apollo 11 are today still living: Aldrin and Collins. Sadly, Armstrong passed away last year.
Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong. Best wishes for continued good health to each of you, Col. Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Collins.
Thank you, gentlemen. You won’t be forgotten.
For those of you who’d like to relive the landing – or who were weren’t yet born or were too young at the time to remember it – here’s capsule video from the latter part of the LEM’s descent. Enjoy.
Author’s Postscript: in an ironic quirk of fate, Ted Kennedy likely owes his political career to the Apollo program begun under his late brother John, and particularly to the Apollo 11 mission. Eagle landed somewhat over 36 hours after Kennedy’s car had gone off a bridge at a place called Chappaquiddick. That “little mishap” – which otherwise doubtless would have been front page news nationwide – was pretty much pushed out of the public’s consciousness by news of the moon landing.
I wonder if the account Teddy gave to the Deity in 2009 concerning his actions that night bears much resemblance to the story he told to the US public – and in court – in 1969?
Rest in peace, Mary Joe Kopechne.