Apollo 11

On Sunday, July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo 11 lunar module, Eagle, on the surface of the Moon at 3:17 p.m. CDT. Later that day, Armstrong, age 38, and Aldrin, age 39, became the first human beings to walk on another world, 51 years ago this day. Fifty-one years before that, World War I was nearing its end while the 1918 flu pandemic was ramping up in its fifth month of a twenty-six month ordeal.

Armstrong and Aldrin landed at lunar latitude 0.7° N and longitude 23.5° E, in Mare Tranquillitatis (The Sea of Tranquillity). Back here on Earth, the lunar phase was waxing crescent (35% illuminated), and the Moon set that night in Dodgeville at 11:23 p.m.—just a few minutes before Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the lunar module after spending over two hours on the surface of the Moon.

Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the lunar surface at 9:56 p.m. CDT, followed by Buzz Aldrin at 10:15 p.m. After exploring the lunar surface and setting up several scientific instruments, Buzz Aldrin returned to the lunar module at 12:01 a.m., followed by Neil Armstrong at 12:09 a.m. Monday morning.

After five hours of work stowing samples and other housekeeping tasks, Armstrong and Aldrin tried to get some sleep during a scheduled seven hour rest period. However, there were no beds in the lunar module—not even any chairs! Armstrong tried to sleep on the ascent engine cover in the rear of the cabin and Aldrin tried to sleep curled up on the floor. Adding to their discomfort, both astronauts had to keep their spacesuits on. And the lunar module was noisy, bright light leaked into the cabin, and they were too excited to sleep. Aldrin got about two hours of restless sleep. Armstrong got none.

The lunar module took off at 12:54 p.m. Monday afternoon, docked with the command module piloted by Michael Collins at 4:35 p.m., and then the astronauts began their journey home.

One of the little known facts of the Apollo missions is all the high-tech “garbage” that was left behind on the lunar surface to allow the astronauts to bring back more moon rocks. All in all, over 800 lbs. of moon rocks and lunar soil were brought back to Earth during the six lunar landing missions, the last of which returned to Earth on December 19, 1972.

In the Shadow of the Moon

Every once in a while a really great documentary comes along.  In the Shadow of the Moon is one of them. This 2007 British film, which like most documentaries (unfortunately), had a very limited theater engagement, is now widely available for rental or purchase.

It is the remarkable story of the Apollo missions to the Moon, told eloquently by many of the astronauts who journeyed there: Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 & 13), Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14), David Scott (Apollo 9 & 15), John Young (Apollo 10 & 16), Charles Duke (Apollo 16), Eugene Cernan (Apollo 10 & 17), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).  You certainly get the impression that not only are these guys personable and intelligent, but that they have aged well and still have much insight and wisdom to offer us about the past, present, and future.

The historical importance of this documentary cannot be overstated.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like hearing about the first (and still only) human missions to the Moon firsthand from the astronauts who journeyed there.  And, sadly, these pioneering astronauts are not going to be with us much longer. Most have already left us.  In the eleven years since this documentary was released, Edgar Mitchell, the last surviving member of the Apollo 14 crew, passed away in 2016, Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, passed away in 2017, John Young, the longest-serving astronaut in NASA history, and Alan Bean, the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 crew, left us in 2018.  The six surviving Apollo astronauts who shared their stories with us in this film are all octogenarians and nonagenarians: Buzz Aldrin is 88, Michael Collins is 87, Jim Lovell is 90, David Scott is 85, Charles Duke is 82, and Harrison Schmitt is 82.

This is a story that needed to be told by those who can tell it best.  There is no narrator, nor is there any need for one.  Kudos to directors David Sington & Christopher Riley, producers Duncan Copp, Christopher Riley, Sarah Kinsella, John Battsek, & Julie Goldman, and  composer Philip Sheppard for making this a film of lasting cultural significance, a film that will be admired and appreciated a hundred-plus years from now.