The Most Amazing TV Broadcast Ever

I have never much cared for television. But that day 40 years ago, I was stuck fast to the set watching the coverage of the first moon landing — as were people all over the world. It was a Sunday and I was in the family home at Public Landing, Md., on the Chincoteague Bay.

My car had broken down, not an unusual occurrence, and I didn’t know how I would get to work the next day. But I spared only a few fleeting thoughts to that, as absorbed as I was with history in the making.

The excitement of the moon landing was almost more than I could stand. I sat with my journal, which I kept in a ledger book, and took notes. Naturally, I was watching CBS, because the network’s great newsman, Walter Cronkite, would interpret all the action for us. He was a beloved father figure in space coverage and always could be trusted to deliver the news straight.

The Eagle, the name given to the lunar module or LM, was heading toward a touchdown with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren aboard. Meanwhile, the command module orbited Luna, Michael Collins in it. When the first astronauts to land on another world finished their stay, they would lift off to rendezvous with Collins for the flight home.

Besides taking notes, I made several photos of the TV while the live drama unfolded. As I remember, the black-and-white video broadcast from the moon had a ghostly quality, as if the television camera was not renewing the images quickly enough. Sometimes they were poorly exposed. Yet they were the most thrilling pictures I had ever seen.

[Photo I made from live TV that night of Neil Armstrong stepping off the Eagle’s ladder to make the first footprint on the moon.]

I obsessively scribbled down much of what was coming over the airwaves, stopping sometimes to take photographs and then trying to catch up with words I wasn’t able to write down as they came across. That is why I failed to get all of Armstrong’s first words on the moon and even incorrectly recalled his “That’s one small step” as “It’s one small step.”

In this transcript, wherever the word degree appears, it’s actually the symbol for degree in my notes, but for some reason the glyph won’t reproduce in Blogville.

My entry for July 20, 1969, is too long and tedious to reproduce in full; instead, I’ve tried to trim it enough to keep it reasonably crisp:

Looks like you’re go. Roger got good data.

4.25 to go — 16,000 feet. …

In the approach phase —

5200 ft. 4200 — go for landing. 3000 ft.

We’re go. 2000 ft. — 1600 ft. 1,000 ft. 35 degrees — 700 ft.

540′ —

They’re go —

400 ft. —

50 ft. —

20 ft.

….

Contact!

Engines stop!

They’re down! Man on the moon! The Eagle has landed! …

They are on the moon.

We have made a moon landing.

102 45 42 [102 hours, 45 minutes, 42 seconds after liftoff] unofficial touchdown [time].

We thank you.

This has been flawless.

Man has been on the moon less than 10 minutes.

Right into a football-field sized crater. [Actually, they were not in the crater; Armstrong had steered the Eagle over it.] It looks like a collection of just about every variety — shape, angularity, granularity — of rock you could find. Looks like they’re going to have some interesting color to them.

….

4 degree pitch. Great.

“Sure sounded great from up here … did a fantastic job,” says Collins.

Systems look good after that landing. “All your consumables are solid.”

—-

Broken rocks …. 4 mi. downrange from the very center of the footprint [the landing target].

—-

Moon walk will be at 9 p.m. — 2 hrs. and 42 minutes from now.

—-

…. 9:08 p.m. and man’s first moon walk starts in about half an hour. …

Feel … worried about how I’ll get to work tomorrow. I suppose I’ll hitch-hike. Bay of Fundy.

Looked for the moon while I was outside but it was too cloudy.

Running late in preparations for EVA [ExtraVehicular Activity]: they’ll now walk about 10 p.m.

Sun 10 degrees will make their shadows long.

….

It has just gusted and rain came pouring in the windows, soaking my camera, the table, the floors. I dried off my camera and the table top, closed all the windows, just about, that were open.

Crew are finished putting on their suits and are now putting on their back packs.

Lightning is really loud. I’ve been taking a few pictures of the t.v. with my Mamiya — Tri-X [film] — f.4 at 60th.

…. Really raining hard.

Open the t.v. circuit breakers. Whatever that means. Area where Armstrong will step onto the moon will be in shadow and this may present some problems. The spacecraft’s transmissions are now terrible. Cannot read Neil very well. Neil’s got his antenna up now and we can hear him well for a bit — antenna scratches the roof, within the LEM, and causes static.

Go for cabin depressurization. About 5 of 10 p.m. About 2 minutes to go before the start of the walk.

“Now wait a minute.” …

About to step out on the moon.

Silence.

….

“… we’d like you to pull the … suit …. Circuit breaker — channel 15 (or 16) over.”

Disconnect some sort of hoses. At least part of the camera system’s working. Am using ashtray Bill gave me for my own cigarettes now. Dad’s is about full. [I am glad to say I stopped the filthy tobacco habit a few months later and never resumed it.]

About 10. Should be about ready now.

Still checking off checklist of some sort. Of course every bit of this will be recorded.

Tranquility Base. [When it touched down the Eagle was immediately renamed Tranquility Base, for the Sea of Tranquility where it landed.] I wonder what the science fiction pulp magazines will make of this — will they make every moon base or landing a “Serenity Base” or a “Tycho Base?”

The voice of mission control is Jack Riley. Poor old Chris Kraft.

Collins comments.

— Vest? “Windows clear.”

About 5 minutes before Collins goes out of communication. [The command module was soon to glide behind the moon, temporarily out of radio contact.]

Maybe Armstrong’s first words on the surface of the moon will be “Vanity vanity all is vanity; thus saith the preacher.”

….

I turn the light off so there won’t be a reflection on the t.v.

10:10 p.m.

Hanging fire.

Millions wait.

N.Y. Times: Men Land on Moon. All caps; N.Y. Daily News: Man Lands on the Moon.

“… red lock, push lever. — lock, both sides. …”

I guess they’re about to get out. It’s 10:17, and it seems I’ve been waiting a long time. An hour or so. An hour and a half I guess.

“Pretty well compete.”

Oblique reference to Cronkite’s running aground near home. [Cronkite had run his sailing boat aground recently and someone at CBS was kidding him about it.]

Still nothing much from the moon.

10:25 — they’re about to go out. They’re dumping air. [Cabin pressure is] 4.2, 4.1 — 3.5 — lbs. per square inch, no doubt. …

Okay —

Okay let’s go to …. Now on the life support system —

Armstrong — “Set my watch at 5-6 over.”

“Roger.”

“3, 2, 1 mark.”

Cabin pressure near zero. 10:30. Open hatch when we get to zero.

Visors.

Visors down. I worried about sunburned eyes.

About ready to go. They’re go. Lightning.

.4 of a pound. I put my cigarette out and get ready. 10:42. 10.31 Z after clock. .2.

It’s muggy here. About 90 degrees.

10:32 — five minutes into Arm’s life support system —

Local announcement. …

Back to CBS.

The next 60 years. Hatch is open, I think. Don’t know. …

There’s space on the moon. Lightning. Tension. Muggy heat. Dark room and background hum and intermittent static. …

“Okay, my window’s clear.”

Now, they must be ready to go.

“We’re all set. Roger.” 1046 [10:46 p.m.].

Okay.

Let’s go already.

“My antenna’s out.”

Maybe that means he’s out of the craft.

….

I’d be happy to be the second man on the moon. Moon from California on t.v. 10:50 He’s going through the hatch opening.

Going out of the L.M.!

“Okay Houston. I’m on the porch.”

“Roger Neil.”

“… little slack — “

109-19-16. hrs. min. sec.

Here goes.

It’s done. T.V. soon.

No pictures yet.

Picture — can’t see much —

He’s on —

At foot of ladder —

He’s on the moon now.

[Astronaut, probably Neil Armstrong, walks toward camera in photo I took that night.]

He’s walking toward the camera — It’s one small step for man — fine and powdery — it does adhere into fine layers like powdered charcoals —

He seems to bounce when he walks.

“It’s very pretty out here.”

Setting up the flag now.

[Photo of moon’s surface I made from live TV on July 20, 1969. To view larger versions of the images, CLICK HERE.]

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