Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 1969: Moon Fever!!

In July 1969, the eyes of the world turned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as we waited for the launch of Apollo 11.

NASA invited dignitaries and media representatives from around the world, and they gathered by the thousands. Even the most jaded person knew that this was not "just another launch" - this was a key landmark of human history, and everyone wanted to be there.

Those fortunate enough to be attending as invited guests received badges that would eventually become collector's items (for people like yours truly). In addition to the "Official Guest" badge, there was a more colorful VIP launch badge which is more commonly seen. A sample of this badge, which displays the mission patch, is shown at left.

The tens of thousands of people who gathered along the highways lining the Cape had to content themselves with unofficial, but nonetheless cherished, mementos of the occasion, such as the "Launch Witness Certificate" shown below. Everyone wanted to be able to prove "I was there!"

Thanks to worldwide, live TV (which wasn't even technologically possible a mere 7 years earlier in the decade!), people around the world were able to share in the event. We all watched as the countdown clock click inexorably downward. The final two minutes seemed interminable to me, yet the steps of launch sequence began happening so quickly that Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Jack King, the "Voice of NASA Launch Control," could barely keep up. I held my breath...

PAO: T minus 60 seconds and counting. We have passed T minus 60. 55 seconds and counting. Neil Armstrong just reported back: "It's been a real smooth countdown". We've passed the 50-second mark. Power transfer is complete - we're on internal power with the launch vehicle at this time. 40 seconds away from the Apollo 11 lift-off. All the second stage tanks now pressurized. 35 seconds and counting. We are still Go with Apollo 11. 30 seconds and counting. Astronauts report, "It feels good". T minus 25 seconds.

PAO: Twenty seconds and counting. T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal. 12, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts...6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engine running, LIFT-OFF! We have a lift-off, 32 minutes past the hour. Lift-off on Apollo 11!

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