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FLASHBACK: The Eagle landed 45 years ago - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: The Eagle landed 45 years ago

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Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014 9:00 am

F orty-five years ago, almost to the day, on July 15, 1969, Neil Armstrong made that famous observation as he stepped on to the surface of the moon: That’s one small step for mankind ….

In the weeks and days before the historic landing, The Odessa American covered every angle. And on Sunday, July 20, 1960, the headline read “Mankind Awaits Moon Landing.”

On July 16, 1969, the day of the takeoff from Cape Kennedy, the OA headline read “Apollo Spaceship Races Toward Lunar Landing.” The OA reported that one million people attended the launch at Cape Kennedy and all “cheered as the great rocket lifted away from earth.”

“Reaching for a dream, America’s Apollo 11 astronauts hurtled across the vastness of space today on a voyage of the ages, and attempt to land two men on the moon,” the story read.

Actually it was three. Civilian commander Neil Armstrong, 38, Air Force Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., 39, and Air Force Lt. Col Michael Collins, 38,  three “Columbuses of the space age,” who were setting sail across a quarter-million-mile ocean of space” to land on the moon. The astronauts would reach the moon’s orbit in a little more than three days, and Aldrin and Armstrong would take a landing craft down to the surface, while Collins orbited above. And 22 hours later the three would rendezvous in space and return to earth.

That day the world watched in awe as Apollo 11 landed. I remember being 8 years old when the moon landing occurred. My family was among the estimated 500 million Earthlings who gathered around televisions and watched silently as this incredible feat was carried out.

As they landed on the moon, at 4:18 p.m. Armstrong would report “Houston…Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”

If you are one of the conspiracy theorists who believe that Hollywood staged this event, you might as well stop reading now.

On that hot July day sitting in front of a giant console television in a Houston apartment, my family watched as Armstrong made his declaration:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Then when Aldrin stepped on the lunar surface he exclaimed, “Beautiful! Beautiful! Magnificent desolation.”

Aldrin, known as a deeply religious man, relayed this message to the world shortly after the landing: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening, whoever, wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

Even as a little child, I remember my heart swelling with patriotic pride as I witnessed history.

We watched as the two ambassadors from earth planted the American flag and saluted it. Then they left gifts like a stainless steel plaque that read: “Here men from planet earth first set foot upon the moon July, 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth, there was a West Texas connection and one I never knew about until a good friend bestowed a stack of yellowed, crumbling Odessa American newspapers upon me last year.

One of Armstrong’s jobs once he exited the lunar module was to place a reflector on the moon that was to catch a ruby laser beam shot from the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis. The purpose of the lunar laser was to measure the distance from the earth to the moon and a project that would last 10 years.

Unfortunately, the first laser shot failed, as reported in the July 21, 1969, edition of the Odessa American.

“Heavy clouds cover in the observatory area bounces the ruby ray back to the scientists and prevents the laser from reaching the moon …” the OA reported.

A delegation of 40 newspaper publishers, that likely included the late Odessa American Publisher V. L. Debolt, accompanied then Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes to Fort Davis where they toured the observatory and looked through the big telescope. This was a huge step for Texas.

“I think this experiment will do more toward helping us draw more and better scientists to this state,” Barnes said that day. “This is in my opinion, one of the most historic happenings in Texas in modern times.

“The McDonald Observatory lunar laser project will place the University of Texas on a level equal to, if not above any other such facility in the world,” Barnes said.

And it did indeed.

Editors note: This column originally ran in August of 2013. It has been edited to reflect correct dates.

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