Apollo 11: Looking Back at the First Moon Landing 45 Years Ago
It was quite a time to be working at NASA, Garman said, with the average age of the Mission Control workers about 27 or 28 years old. "We wrote our own [procedure] books. We didn't have prior people to teach us anything." Jerry Bostick said that for him, many parts of the Apollo 11 mission remain very prominent even today, from the launch of the spacecraft atop the huge Saturn V rocket that propelled it away from the Earth, to the "trans-lunar injection" that rocketed the crew and their command and lunar modules directly to the moon. Those moments were all special, said Bostick, "with all of us in the control center feeling that this was for real; it was not a simulation or a practice mission. It was the real thing—we were headed for a landing on the moon." Also still memorable, he said, was the entrance of the spacecraft into a descent orbit around the moon and the actual landing. "When we heard [Aldrin say] 'picking up some dust,' it was a great relief. If they were that close, there was no question that they would safely land. Who can ever forget Neil stepping off the ladder?" Getting to Apollo 11 wasn't easy, Bostick added. "The first manned Apollo flight, Apollo 7, remains an unheralded mission," he said. The Oct. 11, 1968, Apollo 7 mission came 21 months after the horrific January 27, 1967, launch pad fire that claimed the lives of three Apollo 1 astronauts, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The three died when an electrical short ignited the capsule's pure oxygen environment, causing an explosion. By Apollo 7, the command module capsule had been redesigned and made much safer, then put into Earth orbit to prove its airworthiness. "It was the most jam-packed flight plan we had ever attempted and if not successful, the entire program would have been at risk," said Bostick. "It was very successful and gave us enough confidence to fly the very next flight to the moon, Apollo 8. That flight is one of the boldest things NASA ever undertook and proved that we were able to do everything required to achieve President Kennedy's goal [of landing men on the moon by the end of the decade and then returning them safely to Earth], except for the actual landing. It also proved to us that we were well in advance of the Soviet Union."To Gene Kranz, the legacy of Apollo 11 all these years later continues to be the talented and smart people who were on his flight control team in those heady days of Apollo, he said. "This was a group of young people, about 26 years old, who were willing to stand up to great opportunities in front of the world. And they stood up whether they did well or did poorly." One of the key reasons that the Mission Control flight engineers were so young was that many of the established NASA workers were unsure of the space program, said Kranz. "Space was such a new thing that they were not willing to risk their careers on space, so we were forced to have a relatively young team. By Apollo, we had to bring in young people because the people, who did [the earlier] Gemini [space program] were technical dinosaurs by that time." Kranz, now 81 years old, looks back philosophically at Apollo 11. "When we were doing the work, this was a very special mission to us all, but it was just one of a series of missions when we were moving to a high ground in space. As a team and as a nation, the real impact didn't come through in those days. It's really only now as we look back at it."