Watch the Original TV Coverage of the Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing: Recorded on July 20, 1969

Dur­ing a recent din­ner a few friends and I found our­selves rem­i­nisc­ing about for­ma­tive moments in our col­lec­tive youth. The con­ver­sa­tion took a decid­ed­ly down­beat turn when a nation­al­ly tele­vised moment we all remem­bered all too well came up: the 1986 explo­sion of the space shut­tle Chal­lenger. Like mil­lions of oth­er schoolkids at the time we had been glued to the live broad­cast, and became wit­ness­es to hor­ror. “It was NASA’s dark­est tragedy,” writes Eliz­a­beth How­ell at, an acci­dent that “changed the space pro­gram for­ev­er.”

The con­trast with our par­ents’ indeli­ble mem­o­ries of a tele­vised space broad­cast from sev­en­teen years ear­li­er could not be stark­er. On July 20, 1969, the nation wit­nessed what could eas­i­ly be called NASA’s great­est tri­umph, the Apol­lo 11 moon land­ing, which not only real­ly hap­pened, but was broad­cast live on CBS, with com­men­tary by Wal­ter Cronkite and for­mer astro­naut Wal­ly Schirra and live audio from Mis­sion Con­trol in Hous­ton and Buzz Aldrin him­self, “whose job dur­ing the land­ing,” Jason Kot­tke writes, “was to keep an eye on the LM (lunar module)’s alti­tude and speed.”

We don’t hear much from Neil Armstrong—“he’s busy fly­ing and furi­ous­ly search­ing for a suit­able land­ing site. But it’s Arm­strong that says after they land, ‘Hous­ton, Tran­quil­i­ty Base here. The Eagle has land­ed.’” Kottke’s fas­ci­nat­ing descrip­tion of the events points out details that height­en the dra­ma, such as the fact that Armstrong’s heartrate “peaked at 150 beats per minute at land­ing” (his rest­ing heartrate was 60 bpm). At around 10 min­utes to land­ing, the astro­nauts link to Mis­sion Con­trol cut out briefly, which must have been ter­ri­fy­ing.

“Then there were the inter­mit­tent 1201 and 1202 pro­gram alarms, which nei­ther the LM crew nor Hous­ton had encoun­tered in any of the train­ing sim­u­la­tions.” These turn out “to be a sim­ple case,” notes NASA, “of the com­put­er try­ing to do too many things at once.” Giv­en that the Lunar Module’s com­put­er only had 4KB of mem­o­ry, this is hard­ly a sur­prise. What is aston­ish­ing is that such a rel­a­tive­ly prim­i­tive machine could han­dle the task at all.

The film view­ers saw on their screens was not, of course, a live feed—CBS did not have cam­eras in space or on the moon—but rather an ani­ma­tion.

The CBS ani­ma­tion shows the fake LM land­ing on the fake Moon before the actu­al land­ing — when Buzz says “con­tact light” and then “engine stop”. The ani­ma­tion was based on the sched­uled land­ing time and evi­dent­ly couldn’t be adjust­ed. The sched­uled time was over­shot because of the crater and boul­ders sit­u­a­tion men­tioned above.

There were, how­ev­er, cam­eras mount­ed on the Lunar Mod­ule, and that 16mm footage of the land­ing, which you can see above, was lat­er released. And then there’s that moon walk (which real­ly hap­pened), which you can see below—blurry and indis­tinct but no less amaz­ing.

Just a lit­tle over eight years “since the flights of Gagarin and Shep­ard,” NASA writes, “fol­lowed quick­ly by Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s chal­lenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out,” it hap­pened. Arm­strong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins land­ed on the moon. Arm­strong and Aldrin walked around and col­lect­ed sam­ples for two hours, then returned safe­ly to Earth. In a post-flight press con­fer­ence, Arm­strong called the suc­cess­ful mis­sion “a begin­ning of a new age,” and it was, though his opti­mism would seem almost quaint when a cou­ple decades lat­er, the U.S. turned its sights on weaponiz­ing space.

Read more about this extra­or­di­nary event at NASA and Kot­tke.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Daugh­ter Vivian Debunks the Age-Old Moon Land­ing Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry

The Source Code for the Apol­lo 11 Moon Land­ing Mis­sion Is Now Free on Github

Neil Arm­strong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins Go Through Cus­toms and Sign Immi­gra­tion Form After the First Moon Land­ing (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • bruce says:

    I hate that his­to­ry has edit­ed the words that were real­ly spo­ken by Arm­strong when he stepped on the moon. His­to­ry is changed so eas­i­ly.

  • Patrick says:

    What Arm­strong said was: That’s One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind — which makes no sense. He meant to say, That’s small one step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.
    He, being a man, but the entire process of which he was a part was for MANKIND.

  • Bill Gray says:

    Is there any­where pos­si­ble to hear the actu­al trans­mis­sion from buzz after he switched to the med chan­nel and said they had com­pa­ny not far away observ­ing them

  • Robert M McGowan says:

    Bill Gray says:
    July 8, 2020 at 11:42 pm
    Is there any­where pos­si­ble to hear the actu­al trans­mis­sion…

    There is a record­ing that I had but can­not locate now. I will order anoth­er copy and get back to you on that.

  • Al knowles says:

    i watched the simul­ti­on and it showd hi walikung on the moon and his desent down the ladder,they said there wasw no wind othe moon no air cur­rent at ‚whyis the flag wav­ing in the wind? ther was also­proof of build­ing reflect­ing in Arm­strongd hel­met face win­dow . I waw­c­the biggest hoax at thjt tme, much lke Biden win­ning the pres­i­dent­cy

  • Fast Eddy says:

    For the best doc­u­men­tary on the ‘moon land­ings’ I rec­om­mend Amer­i­can Moon

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.