“Men will lift their minds to the moon this week, and who knows then how far beyond?”
I’ve had this July 21, 1969 edition of The Columbus Evening Dispatch since I was a kid. I think my grandma gave it to me when my Star Wars fandom gave birth to my fascination with real-life space travel and astronomy.
While I was getting the paper out for a revisit around the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, though, I also found part of an amazing Detroit Free Press special section dated Sunday, July 13, 1969. Its full-color front and back pages – I only have the outermost pages which wrapped the section: 1,2, 15 and 16 – blew me away, and I can’t’ imagine what this must have cost to produce 40 years ago, especially since even when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, seeing a color photo in a newspaper was still a relatively rare and eye-catching thing.
I don’t know how or why this Detroit paper made it into our collection: All the rest of the old newspapers are either copies of The Daily Chief-Union, published in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where my parents grew up, or The Dispatch out of Columbus, where most people in Upper turned for the big-city news. (Neil Armstrong, in fact, spent part of his childhood living in Upper Sandusky, and the small church some of my family attends has a plaque outside its front door noting that it’s where he was confirmed.)
I absolutely love this artist’s conception of the lander
and the Earthrise and the command module orbiting overhead, and I hope the original’s got a nice place on an enthusiastic owner’s wall someplace, because it’s just stunning. (I’m also absolutely baffled that there’s no credit on the illustration: The creator’s signature is in the lower right corner of the painting, but I can’t make it out, other than to guess that it looks like A_____ L____, or maybe M___ L____.) The post header I’ve used comes from the long caption beneath the painting, which begins:
Frail man sails a silvery bug into space this week, riding his faith and audacity across 240,000 dark and empty miles to leave his footprints on the moon.
The entire front page piece – “This Trip’s Dark, New Perils” – is basically a What Could Go Wrong story by Gary Blonston and Boyce Rensberger, detailing some of the awful possibilities:
High above the moon’s surface, astronaut Mike Collins will circle in the command module, waiting for rendezvous. He will be able to talk to Armstrong and Aldrin,to see their ship, to hear a distress call if that call should come, but no more. When the lunar module Eagle drops within 35,000 feet of the moon, Collins cannot follow. It is impossible for him to land.
Collins has talked about that only briefly. Quietly, clinically, he explained to Life Magazine:
“If they have difficulty on the surface of the moon, there is nothing I can do about it. So I guess the question that everyone has in the back of his mind is how do I feel about having to leave them on the lunar surface.
I don’t think that will happen and if it did I would do everything I could to help them, but they know and I know and Mission Control knows that there are certain categories of malfunctions where I just simply light the motor and come home without them.”
The statement is too chilling to contemplate for long. A quarter-million miles away, two men – two friends – ask help from the surface they will never leave…
Page two is taken up by a long, anecdote-driven Neil Armstrong profile. The two stories on page 15 are Blonston’s first-person account of watching a Saturn V rocket launch and a less-than-flattering look at NASA’s societal impact on Cocoa Beach, Florida. There’s also a drawing of the region showing the best sites for watching the launch which I think is kind of neat and reminds me of living in Orlando and driving down Route 50 to Titusville to watch space shuttle takeoffs.
The back page offers another burst of color in four moon photos, the largest a red-filtered Apollo image, labeled with phrases like “Where The Sun Spills Raw Heat” and “Eerie, barren folds of mountainous terrain undulate to the horizon of the moon, dead and stark and hot with lunar daylight.”
I wish I had the rest of this section, but discovering these four pages alone, along with the coverage of the first landing’s anniversary - has really stirred up some wonder.
The Apollo 11 landing happened a year and a half before I was born. Apollo 17, NASA’s last lunar landing trip, concluded when I was barely two, which means I have no memories at all of the moon mission years.
I wish I did.