Portage, WI – July 16th, 1969, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Saturn V Rocket took off from the launch pad “32 minutes past the hour.” Aboard were Buzz Aldrin, Michel Collins, and Neil Armstrong. The world was watching- in fact, up to that time it had the highest viewership of any television broadcast.
On July 20, 1969, 40 years ago today, the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Command Module Columbia. Collins, alone aboard Columbia, inspected Eagle as it pirouetted before him to ensure the craft was not damaged. The Eagle’s sides were so fragile you could have put a pencil through them.
As the ship taxied down, Armstrong realized the computer was taking for a sea of rocks “Tranquility Sea.” He took manual control and piloted it himself to the ground. As they descended their fuel gauges began to run low-down to 25 seconds. Then the radio went through to Charlie Duke, the Capcom at Mission Control: “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Twan-- Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
They rested for two and a half hours. Then before beginning the EVA, Aldrin said "This is the LM pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and 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.” Then he took communion.
The ladder came down. People all over the planet must have been shaking with excitement. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And the Space Race was over. Man had walked on the moon. The American flag was the first one planted there, not the Russian one. An astronaut was the first one to make a foot print, not a cosmonaut.
It would go on, but Russia had lost the race. They had tired themselves out with the Space and Arms Races at the same time. The Communist economy could not sustain it. They would soon begin to decline, and then they would fall with a crash. But Communism did not die, it still lives on, but that one step did mark the beginning of the end.
Because the moon has no atmosphere, that print will stay there for a long time, perhaps forever. And so will the Print of the Cold War. It is still with us. We no longer talk about it, but the missiles are still there, Russia and America are not on the best of terms. While the wall would be years in coming down, one small step ended the Cold War. But the print is still there.
Andrew C. Abbott