History Book: To the moon and back


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, July 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

AUDIO: [Sound of 2019 Apollo 11 celebration]

This past weekend hundreds of celebrations marked the Apollo 11 anniversary. From a life-sized projection of the Saturn five rocket on the Washington Memorial, to moonwalking virtual reality at Houston’s Space Center.

EICHER: Today on the WORLD Radio History Book, Paul Butler uses Mission Control archive recordings to guide us through the Apollo 11 mission—from launch to splashdown.

NASA: T minus 1 minute, 35 seconds on the Apollo mission, the flight to land the first men on the Moon. 

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: July 16th, 1969. The morning weather in Merritt Island, Florida, is perfect for launch: 85 degrees under mostly sunny skies with a very slight breeze at the Kennedy Space Center. 

NASA: Neil Armstrong just reported back: “It’s been a real smooth countdown”. We’ve passed the 50-second mark…

As many as a million spectators gather along the beaches and roads for miles around—eyeing the three hundred sixty three foot tall Saturn five rocket with three men balanced atop it. 

NASA: Three. Two. One. Zero. All engines running. Lift-off. We have a lift-off!

12 minutes into the flight, the spacecraft enters orbit. After one and a half times around the earth, astronaut Michael Collins fires its engines and changes the trajectory toward the moon.

NASA SOUND: Mike Collins is now maneuvering the spacecraft in the transposition and docking maneuver.

The trip to the moon takes nearly three days. Along the way, the astronauts keep busy: scientific experiments, regular navigation readings, maneuver rehearsals, and activities more mundane. 

COLLINS: Would you believe you’re looking at chicken stew, here? All you have to do is – 3 ounces of hot water for 5 or 10 minutes…and then mush it up and slice the end off it and there you go, beautiful chicken stew.

DUKE: Sounds delicious. 

July 19th: 12:21pm. The Apollo 11 spacecraft begins orbiting the moon.

ARMSTRONG: Apollo 11 is getting its first view of the landing approach…

A day later, the command module and the lunar lander separate. As Collins continues to orbit the moon in Columbia, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong begin their descent to the lunar surface in the Eagle.

DUKE: Roger. How does it look, Neil?

ARMSTRONG: The Eagle has wings.

For the next two hours, the world holds its breath as the lander approaches the lunar surface. 

ARMSTRONG: Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again, thanks a lot. Thank you. 

It takes more than three hours before the astronauts are ready to leave the module. At 9:56pm on July 20th, Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to step on the moon:

ARMSTRONG: Okay. I’m going to step off the LM now. That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind. 

On the surface, Amstrong and Aldrin plant an American flag, deploy monitoring equipment for further lunar study, and even speak with President Nixon. 

NIXON: This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House…For one priceless moment, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.

July 21st: 12:54 pm. After less than 22 hours on the surface, Aldrin and Armstrong lift off from the moon. They dock with the command module, and begin the journey home. 

ARMSTRONG: We’re looking forward to a little rest and a restful trip back. And see you when we get there.

SLAYTON: Rog. You’ve earned it.

The night before splashdown, the three astronauts connect with mission control by television. Niel Armstrong and Michael Collins each thank the thousands of people who worked behind the scenes to make the trip possible. Buzz Aldrin chimes in:

ALDRIN: Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind. “When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him?”

July 24th, 1969: After eight days in space, Columbia re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. 

A helicopter picks them up and brings them to an American aircraft carrier, the U-S-S Hornet. President Nixon is on hand to welcome them home: 

NIXON: Nell, Buzz, and Mike. I want you to know that I think I’m luckiest man in the world…because I have the privilege of speaking for so many in welcoming you back to Earth. 

After a few minutes of good humored banter, Nixon concludes by inviting Navy Chaplain John Piirto to pray for the astronauts. 

NIXON: …our prayers have been answered, and I think it would be very appropriate if Chaplain Piirto were to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. 

LT. COMDR. JOHN A. PIIRTO: Lord, God, our Heavenly Father. Our minds are staggered and our spirit exalted with the magnitude and precision of this entire Apollo 11 mission. We have spent the past week in communal anxiety and hope as our astronauts sped through the glories and dangers of the heavens. We applaud their splendid exploits and we pour out our thanksgiving for their safe return to us, to their families, to all mankind. Grant us peace, beginning in our own hearts, and a mind attuned with good will toward our neighbor. All this we pray as our thanksgiving rings out to Thee. In the name of our Lord, amen.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP) In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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