The front page of the Daily Express at its reported the Moon landing 45 years ago [REX/E&S]
The launch of Apollo 11 went without at a hitch and at 3.56am London time on July 21 the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the surface of the moon immortalising his feat in the unforgettable line: “That’s one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind.”
The Daily Express’s US-based journalists filed their reports to staff in the newspaper’s then offices in Fleet Street who worked into the early hours to produce an edition worthy of such an epoch-making event.
My left foot pressed into the surface one or two inches. The moon has a harsh beauty all its own. It looks like the desert of the United States but it is very beautiful
The fact that the paper’s four million readers were able to peruse news of the moon landing over the breakfast table within hours of it taking place was only thanks to a last-minute decision to bring forward the moonwalk by four hours on the basis that a scheduled sleep break had become redundant.
“The change of plan was decided on two hours after the landing craft had touched down in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, ” we reported.
“The astronauts’ doctor, Dr Charles Berry, said: ‘It would have been virtually impossible for them to go to sleep when they were excited’.”
Once on the lunar surface, Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin kept up a running commentary on their impressions as they explored their new environment.
“My left foot pressed into the surface one or two inches, ” said Armstrong. “The surface appears to be grainy. There seems to be no difference in moving about in moon gravity.”
He said later: “The moon has a harsh beauty all its own. It looks like the desert of the United States but it is very beautiful.”
The front page of the Daily Express 45 years ago reporting Neil Armstrong's moonwalk [EX]
One of Armstrong’s most important tasks was to mark the US’s achievement in becoming the first country to put a man on the moon by planting its national flag on the lunar surface.
“It measures 5ft by 3ft, is made of nylon and because there is no breeze whipping across the lunar landscape the flag is frozen permanently into a flutter with a spring-loaded wire, ” reported the Daily Express.
It was this feature that went on to spawn myriad conspiracy theories over the years from people unaware of the above or simply not prepared to believe it, who claimed that the flag’s flutter in a wind-free atmosphere is proof that the entre moon landing was a hoax.
It took four or five attempts for the astronauts to plant the flagpole upright in the moon’s surface but once they had it positioned securely both astronauts stepped back to salute the Stars and Stripes.
Armstrong spent two and a half hours on the moon’s surface – Aldrin slightly less – and between them they collected 44lbs of moon rock that would later prove invaluable to the 142 scientific centres around the Western world waiting to examine quantities of “moon soil”.
Before re-entering their landing craft the crew of Apollo 11 left behind a plaque, which was signed by each of the astronauts plus America’s then president Richard Nixon, bearing the message, “We came in peace for all mankind”.
Given that the mission took place at the height of the Cold War, however, nobody was under any illusions about which particular outpost of mankind would benefit most. This was an American victory in the space race against its ideological enemy the Soviet Union.
What else happened in 1969?
January 9: A prototype of the Anglo-French supersonic airliner Concorde makes its first trial flight from Bristol. The first test flight of Boeing’s revolutionary jumbo jet takes place a little over a month later.
January 16: Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 perform the first transfer of crew in space.
May 4: East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray are found guilty of murder, sentenced to life and are destined to die in prison.
July 24: Apollo 11 returns to Earth and Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are treated to a heroes’ welcome. After being released from 18 days in quarantine – designed to ensure that they hadn’t picked up any space bugs – they take part in a “Giant Leap” tour around the US which kicks off with a tickertape parade through New York’s “Canyon of Heroes” that runs down Broadway and Park Avenue. President Nixon then loaned them his presidential Boeing Air Force One for an international goodwill tour that runs from September 29 to November 5. The astronauts and their wives visit 24 cities around the world during which they are seen by at least 100 million people and as many as 25, 000 shake their hands including Pope Paul VI.
July 25: Edward Kennedy pleads guilty to leaving scene of an accident a week after the Chappaquiddick car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne. It was a scandal that was to dog him for the rest of his political career and effectively end his future presidential hopes.
August 14: British troops are deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland marking the start of The Troubles.
September 26: The Beatles release their Abbey Road album, which goes to number one in the US album charts and stays there for 11 weeks. This doesn’t stop John Lennon returning his OBE in November in protest at Britain’s support for the Vietnam War.