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On this day in 1969 — 54 years ago today — Apollo 11 was launched on the first historic journey to the moon
Apollo 11 launches
Photo by Frank Beacham
On this day in 1969 — 54 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. The next day, on July 20, 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 said, as he became the first human to walk on the moon: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
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. It safely splashed 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 with 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.
The three Apollo 11 astronauts, led by Neil Armstrong, enter the vehicle for the ride to the Saturn 5 rocket
Photo by Frank Beacham
Apollo 11: A Personal Remembrance
On July 15, 1969, armed with a letter from NASA promising a press pass, I waited in the credentials line at the Kennedy Space Center. Next to me was a writer, who introduced himself as Norman Mailer.
We sipped coffee and talked excitedly about the events we were about to experience. Mailer told me he was working on a new book, to be called “Of a Fire on the Moon.” The line moved along quickly.
I was just a 21-year-old kid who wrote to NASA asking for a press pass. I wasn’t reporting for anyone at the time. I just wanted to be there, sensing how important it was to land the first men on the moon. Once I got my credential, I could roam around the space center at will.
In 1969, “security” was a foreign concept. With a press pass — which was free for the asking — one could go practically anywhere. There were no guards in uniforms blocking your way. The times were very different in those days.
The excitement over the first moon launch permeated the night air. No one even thought of sleeping. During the early hours of July 16, I was offered a ride by NASA to the base of the Saturn V rocket that was to take Apollo 11 to the moon. I took it.
The rocket was massive and I looked straight up, as if standing at the base of a skyscraper lit at night. Steam was billowing from the massive beast, giving this gigantic glowing white cylinder the aura of being alive. Standing that close to the vibrating Saturn V gave me chills. I felt it deep in my bones.
Between five and six in the morning, the astronauts had suited up and were about to exit their quarters for the ride to the launchpad. I was nearby. So close, in fact, I could almost reach out and touch them. Just before sunrise, the door opened and the astronauts — in their white space suits — walked to the “Astrovan” for the short ride to the Saturn V. I excitedly snapped photos as they slowly moved past me.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins climbed into the van and drove off. In less than four hours they would be on their way to the moon.
Next, I headed over to the VIP viewing area. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were already there. I waved to the governor from my home state. There were lots of politicians, the vice president and a former president in the stands. It was a who’s who of celebrities and government officials. This was clearly the place to be.
After a while, I went over to the press area. There, I watched Walter Cronkite in the movable CBS studio erected to televise the launch. I then wandered around some more, talking to photographers, cinematographers, reporters and just about anyone else who had come to the launch. It was a very casual scene — a bit like the atmosphere at a rock festival.
The countdown finally began. At exactly 9:32 a.m. the bright sky lit up even more, the ground under us rumbled and the Saturn V slowly lifted Apollo 11 toward the moon. I snapped away. It would be several more days before we’d know whether the mission was a success. But I already sensed that history was being made on this day.
After the launch, I walked to my car to leave the Kennedy Space Center. I was now deeply tired and needed some sleep. But, suddenly, it hit me that I didn’t have a souvenir of the day. Nothing but my photos. There were no souvenirs anywhere to buy. I looked up in front of me and there was this metal sign that said “Moon Parking — $2.00” mounted on a pole.
I stopped, grabbed the 36 x 36-inch sign and put it in the trunk of my car. I kept it nearly 50 years. As time went by, it took on new meaning. It was a tangible remembrance of that incredibly special day. And, over the years, I marveled at how little it cost to park at one of the most iconic events of the 20th century.
A few days later, on July 20, Neal Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin joined him 20 minutes later. It was then, and after their safe arrival back to Earth, that it finally hit me what had happened that morning at the Kennedy Space Center.
I still don’t believe how lucky I was to witness it.
Frank Beacham at the launch of Apollo 11
Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon in the middle sitting together to view the launch from the VIP seating area at the Kennedy Space Center
Photo by 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 this metal “Moon Parking” sign.
I stopped, grabbed the 36 x 36-inch sign and put in the trunk of my car. I kept it through the years.
Rubén Blades plays Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, in the film, Cradle Will Rock, 1999
Rubén Blades is 75 years old today.
Blades is a Panamanian salsa singer, songwriter, actor, Latin jazz musician and activist, performing musically most often in the Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres.
As songwriter, Blades brought the lyrical sophistication of Central American nueva canción and Cuban nueva trova as well as experimental tempos and politically inspired Nuyorican salsa to his music — creating thinking persons' (salsa) dance music.
Blades has composed dozens of musical hits, the most famous of which is "Pedro Navaja," a song about a neighborhood thug who appears to die during a robbery (his song "Sorpresas" continues the story), inspired by "Mack the Knife."
He also composed and sings what many Panamanians consider their second national anthem. The song is titled "Patria" (Fatherland).
He is an icon in Panama and is much admired throughout Latin America and Spain, and managed to attract 18 percent of the vote in his failed attempt to win the Panamanian presidency in 1994. Blades has expressed his interest in making another run for president of Panama in 2019, and has noted that he might limit his future performing activities in order to do so.
In September, 2004, he was appointed minister of tourism by Panamanian president, Martín Torrijos, for a five-year term. He holds a Licenciado en Derecho law degree from the University of Panama and an LL.M in International Law from Harvard University. He is married to singer, Luba Mason.
In June 2011, Blades was honored with an Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award, presented by ASCAP and charity partner WhyHunger, for his selfless charitable work world-wide.
Blades is also an actor, having performed in many films. In 1999, he played Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, in Cradle Will Rock, a film by Tim Robbins. I was executive producer of that movie and got the original story from Orson Welles.
Here, Rivera in the trailer for the film, Cradle Will Roc.k
The world’s first parking meter was installed on this day in 1935 — 88 years ago.
Known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, the meter was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City. The parking meter was the brainchild of Carl C. Magee, who moved to Oklahoma City from New Mexico in 1927.
Magee had a colorful past. As a reporter for an Albuquerque newspaper, he had played a pivotal role in uncovering the so-called Teapot Dome Scandal (named for the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming). In that scandal, Albert B. Fall, then-secretary of the interior, was convicted of renting government lands to oil companies in return for personal loans and gifts.
He also wrote a series of articles exposing corruption in the New Mexico court system, and was tried and acquitted of manslaughter after he shot at one of the judges targeted in the series during an altercation at a Las Vegas hotel.
By the time Magee came to Oklahoma City to start a newspaper, the Oklahoma News, his new hometown shared a common problem with many of America’s urban areas — a lack of sufficient parking space for the rapidly increasingly number of automobiles crowding into the downtown business district each day.
Asked to find a solution to the problem, Magee came up with the Park-o-Meter. The first working model went on public display in early May, 1935, inspiring immediate debate over the pros and cons of coin-regulated parking.
Indignant opponents of the meters considered paying for parking un-American, as it forced drivers to pay what amounted to a tax on their cars, depriving them of their money without due process of law.
Despite such opposition, the first meters were installed by the Dual Parking Meter Company beginning in July, 1935. They cost a nickel an hour, and were placed at 20-foot intervals along the curb that corresponded to spaces painted on the pavement.
Magee’s invention caught on quickly. Retailers loved the meters, as they encouraged a quick turnover of cars — and potential customers — and drivers were forced to accept them as a practical necessity for regulating parking.
By the early 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States.
Today, Park-O-Meter No. 1 is on display in the Statehood Gallery of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Tommy James and the Shondells on the Ed Sullivan Show
By the standard laws of music business success, 17-year old Tommy James and his band, The Shondells, had already had their chance and missed it by the winter of 1965.
They'd recorded a couple of records while still in high school, but when neither managed to gain attention outside of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana. The young men were staring at the same fate that awaits most garage bands when they graduate high school: real life.
But thanks to an incredible sequence of chance events, a very different fate awaited young Tommy James, who earned his first #1 hit on this day in 1966 — 57 years ago — with "Hanky Panky."
The original Shondells would not be so fortunate.
The first chance event that led to Tommy James and the Shondells becoming one of the biggest pop acts of the late 1960s happened back in 1963, when the legendary songwriting couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich — who wrote "(And Then) He Kissed Me" and "Da Doo Ron Ron" for the Crystals, among many other hits — were recording a single of their own that needed a B-side filler tune.
In a hallway outside the studio, they took 20 minutes to write "Hanky Panky."
Fast-forward to 1964, when Tommy James and his Niles, Michigan, friends and bandmates were signed to a local record label called Snap Records. With a contract to record four sides, but a repertoire that was even smaller, they quickly learned "Hanky Panky," based on James' recollection of how it sounded when he heard it covered at a club in nearby South Bend, Indiana.
The raw energy of the Shondells' version made "Hanky Panky" a regional hit, but the record quickly faded away, along with the Shondells' musical ambitions. Nearly two years later, in late 1965, a Pittsburgh disk jockey named "Mad Mike" Metro happened to pull "Hanky Panky" from a record-store bargain bin.
When he played it on the air, the response was overwhelming. Soon the record was a big enough hit in Pittsburgh to inspire bootleggers to press 80,000 illegal copies for sale in stores.
When Tommy James got the call informing him of this turn of events and inviting him to come perform his hit song in Pittsburgh, he made his travel plans instantly. None of his fellow Shondells could be convinced to join him.
And so it was that Tommy James hustled to Pittsburgh alone and drafted a brand-new set of Shondells after hearing Mike Vale, Pete Lucia, Ronnie Rosman and Eddie Gray playing in a local club as the Raconteurs.
This lineup of Tommy James and the Shondells would go on to enjoy a hugely successful late 1960s career that featured 14 Top 40 hits, beginning with the song that topped the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1966.
Here, a much older James and another group of Shondells does the “Hanky Panky” at the Bitter End in New York City.
William Bell performing at the Cutting Room in New York City, June, 2016
Photo by Frank Beacham
William Bell, soul singer and songwriter, is 84 years old today.
As a performer, Bell is probably best known for 1961's "You Don't Miss Your Water" (his debut single); 1968's "Private Number" (a duet with Judy Clay, and a Top 10 hit in the UK); and 1976's "Tryin' to Love Two,” Bell's only US Top 40 hit, which also hit #1 on the R&B charts.
Upon the death of Otis Redding, Bell released the well-received memorial song, "A Tribute to a King.”
As a songwriter, Bell co-authored the Chuck Jackson hit "Any Other Way" (itself a cover, since Bell issued it first, as a follow-up to "You Don't Miss Your Water"), Billy Idol's 1986 hit "To Be a Lover" (originally a hit for Bell under its original title "I Forgot to Be Your Lover"), and the blues classic, "Born Under A Bad Sign,” popularized by both Albert King and Cream.
Although he was a long-time recording artist for Stax Records, he is unrelated to the label's one-time president, Al Bell.
Born in Memphis, Bell took the last name "Bell" as a stage name in honor of his grandmother, whose first name was Belle. After releasing a few scattered singles in the late 1950s as a member of the vocal group, The Del-Rios, Bell began recording for the Stax label in 1961. He was an early signing to Stax Records, which also included Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers.
In 1967, Bell released his first full-length album, “The Soul of a Bell,” on Stax, which included the Top 20 hit single, “Everybody Loves a Winner.”
He co-wrote the song "Born Under A Bad Sign" with Booker T. Jones, which became a signature song for blues musician Albert King. It was later popularized by the power trio, Cream. A year later, in 1968, Bell's collaboration with Judy Clay yielded the memorable hit "Private Number." Linda Ronstadt covered Bell’s song, “Everybody Loves A Winner,” on her album “Don’t Cry Now” released in 1973.
In 1997, Bell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. The same year he received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's R&B Pioneer Award. In 2004, Bell was inducted into Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame.
In 1959, a cement truck crashed near Winganon, Oklahoma. The mixer was too large and heavy to move after the accident, so the machinery was abandoned. Local residents have since repainted the mixer to make it appear to be a NASA space capsule.