Apollo 11: Looking Back at the First Moon Landing 45 Years Ago

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-07-20 Print this article Print
Apollo 11

It was one of history's most significant events, said Kranz, but he is disappointed that it doesn't seem to rank very high almost 50 years later. "The thing that is disturbing to me is that the history books today are treating it almost casually," he said.

Nine months after the Apollo 11 mission, Kranz would play another huge role in NASA's Apollo program. He was one of the key heroes who helped bring the three-man Apollo 13 crew home to Earth in April 1970, after an oxygen tank exploded and disabled the vehicle as the craft made its way toward to Moon. Tom Hanks later made a popular and well-received film, "Apollo 13," about the spaceflight in 1995.

That amazing rescue mission is still a subject Kranz talks about 40 to 50 times a year in talks around the world. "I sort of feel that Apollo 11 has been forgotten because of this," he said. "The movie 'Apollo 13' really affected three different groups," including Kranz's generation and those of his children and grandchildren, he said. "This had an incredible impact."

Such a film also needs to be made about Apollo 11, he said. "What would be the impact if we did a similar story on Apollo 11, because that had its challenges and its heroes as well?"

For all three men, the early ending of the Apollo program with its 17th mission in 1972, after the cancellation of what would have been three more missions, Apollo 18 through 20, was disappointing.

"Yes, I think there are many regrets" about the cancellation, said Kranz. "As a nation, we have a propensity to move to do great things, and then once we do it, we tend to get distracted. There was even talk at the time of a mission that would have landed on the back side of the moon, which would have been one of riskiest ever. But it didn't happen. It was a very difficult time after Apollo 17."

Since Apollo and the Space Shuttle program, the United States has "sort of lost the big picture not only of space but of history, our nation, our future," said Kranz. "We get so pre-occupied with trivia today. I look at these kids playing video games on their iPads" and see it as a waste of their minds. "Our pioneer spirit is part of our heritage. We are here through the courage of our pioneers. What do we have to do to our people and nation to get that back?"

Garman agreed. "Ending the Shuttle program, I think and many people think, was not the right thing to do at all," he said. "It makes us dependent on Russia. Yes, the Shuttle was high-risk, but that is part of space. We don't have a real mission [in space exploration] today, and that's a real problem."

While some people talk about humans going to Mars or to the moon in the future, "it's not a funded or visible target," said Garman. "I'm an optimist, though. I don't see them cancelling human spaceflight. I think things will work out in the long run. I hope so."

Bostick may be the one who is most disappointed by America's current space exploration picture.

"After Apollo 11, the other lunar landings allowed us to really start exploring the moon," he said. "Apollo 13 showed us and the world that we could solve very complicated and unrehearsed problems by refusing to accept defeat. A lot was accomplished through Apollo 17, but not nearly enough. We literally had only scratched the lunar surface. The cancellation of the program after Apollo 17 was a tragic mistake for our nation.  The hardware was already in place and none of us involved could ever understand the rational for stopping there."

Today, it's even worse, said Bostick. "NASA today is not a pretty picture. Just like Apollo, the Space Shuttle program was stopped prematurely. The hardware was safer at the time of cancellation than at any previous time in the program. Now we have no way to get people into Earth orbit and must pay the Russians [didn't we prove in the sixties that our technology was ahead of theirs?] for a ride to the International Space Station. In my opinion, NASA now has no goal. President Kennedy's goal was clear and concise, with an objective and a schedule. Now there is no clear goal. Orion is a spacecraft being built with no objective; it may do this or it may do that. We may go to an asteroid someday, but we don't know which one and when."


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