Forty-five years ago today, Apollo 11 was launched at 9:32 a.m. from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the first historic journey to the surface of the moon.
After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.
As a young reporter, I was at Cape Kennedy to cover the launch. Security in those days was remarkably light and we had access to virtually every part of the Kennedy Space Center.
I photographed the astronauts leaving for the launch pad and was driven by NASA to the Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 11 during the night. As we waited in line for press credentials, I drank coffee with a young Norman Mailer, who was there to write his novel, “Of a Fire On the Moon.”
The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, separated from the command module, where a third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility.
Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston a famous message, "The Eagle has landed." At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. Seventeen minutes later, at 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke the following words to millions listening at home: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." A moment later, he stepped off the lunar module's ladder, becoming the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.
Aldrin joined him on the moon's surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module, and the hatch was closed.
The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon — July 1969 A.D. — We came in peace for all mankind."
At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.
There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972.
The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians and scientists and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today's dollars). The expense was justified by President John F. Kennedy's 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished, ongoing missions lost their viability.
Four hours before liftoff, Neil Armstrong leads the astronauts into the vehicle for the ride to the Apollo 11 launch pad
Buzz Aldren leaves the astronaut quarters for the vehicle to the launch pad
In 1969, “security” was a foreign concept. If you had press credentials — which you could get for the asking — you could go practically anywhere. The times were different then.
That freedom included access to the astronauts and the Apollo 11 rocket before the moon launch in 1969. Between five and six in the morning — before sunrise — the astronauts entered a vehicle for the ride to the rocket on the launch pad. I was so close I could reach out and touch them.
In these shots, Buzz Aldrin leaves the crew building walking to the vehicle. The three astronauts, led by Neil Armstrong, enter the vehicle a couple of minutes later. It was less than four hours before these three men would be on their way to the moon.
The VIP seating area at the Kennedy Space Center. That’s Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon in the middle sitting together to view the launch.
Friends pose by the Saturn 5 that would carry Apollo 11 to the moon at the Kennedy Space Center. From left, Ed Riley, Bob Griffeth and Frank Beacham
After the launch on July 16, 1969, I went to my car to leave the Kennedy Space Center. It hit me as I pulled out that I didn’t have a souvenir of the launch. I looked up and there was a “Moon Parking” sign.
I stopped, grabbed the sign and put in the trunk of my car. I still have that sign to this day.
(With the exception of the "friends" image, all photos by Frank Beacham)