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How the Sunday Sun was the first newspaper in the world to publish news of the 1969 moon landing; 50 years after man first walked on the Moon, a brief history of the Apollo missions recalls the path to that historic event.

Byline: David Morton

It's 50 years since man first walked on the Moon.

The moment has been extensively documented, but what is less well-known is how theSunday Sunbecame a historic footnote to the momentous event.

TheNewcastle-basednewspaper was reputedly the first in the world to hit the news stands, only minutes after the manned lunar module touched down on the Moon's surface at 8.17pm UK time on Sunday, July 20, 1969.

But what of the back story of the epoch-changing Apollo missions?

It was on a sunny, baking-hot day in Houston, Texas, that President John F Kennedy set his nation's eyes on a spectacular, distant and unworldly prize.

In a speech at Rice Stadium, the President declared: "We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard - because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

It was a bold challenge, coming in September 1962, as the United States and the Soviet Union - the planet's two ideologically opposed superpowers - would do almost anything to outdo each other.

Images from the Moon landing 20 July, 1969

The Soviets had scored firsts, successfully launching the artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik,in 1957; and propelling air force pilot, Yuri Gagarin, into space in 1962.

But it was Kennedy's challenge which ignited the 1960s space race.

Ultimately, it was the stars and stripes flag - not the hammer and sickle - that would be unfurled on the surface of the Moon.

Even now, half-a-century after the first lunar landing, it seems so utterly improbable that three men could fly 250,000 miles to the lifeless, inhospitable world. Two astronauts would land on the Moon, while the third would stay in orbit. After nearly 22 hours, the two on the Moon would blast off from the surface, rejoin their colleague in space, before the three would make their return journey to Earth, land in the Pacific Ocean, and be picked up by the American Navy, alive, safe and well.

It did - and still does - seem like the stuff of science fiction, coming little more than 65 years after the first manned airborne flight by the Wright brothers which lasted a bumpy 12 seconds and saw the primitive plane travel just 120 feet.

With Kennedy's words still ringing in ears, the Apollo mission swung into full throttle. The project would be overseen by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

A gigantic Saturn V rocket would launch the three astronauts towards our closest planetary neighbour. Once there, after the bulk of the rocket had been disposed in stages into space, the Command Module would orbit the Moon, and the Lunar Module would land.

The astronauts would conduct a range of scientific experiments, take photograph, and collect rocks and data while on the surface. They would then be brought safely back to Earth.

The Apollo programme was wildly ambitious and, not with its risks. In February 1967, at a launch rehearsal, a cabin fire killed the crew of Apollo 1, Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.

But NASA persisted, with each subsequent Apollo launch proving to be a success, as the goal of reaching the Moon drew closer. Apollo 7 in October 1968 was the first crewed flight. Two months later, Apollo 8 performed the first lunar orbit and return to Earth.

Apollo 11 would be the one. When it launched on July 16, 1969, from Cape Kennedy on the east coast of Florida, there were more than a million spectators packing the highways and beaches.

Millions more around the globe followed the momentous event on TV and radio as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off amid an inferno engulfing the ascending Saturn V.

Four days later when Eagle -- Apollo 11's lunar module -- separated from the command module Columbia at the far side of the Moon, the world waited to see what would happen.

Several times during the Eagle's descent alarms sounded, and at one point it seemed like the computer was being overloaded.

But all went according to plan, and no one who witnessed the television images will ever forget them.

Uttering the immortal phrase "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," commander Neil Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as he became the fist human being to walk on the Moon.

Armstrong's historic step on to the dusty surface of the landing spot -- The Sea of Tranquillity -- was captured by a television camera, and its live signal was fed back to NASA Mission Control in Houston - and to the wider world.

Lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin followed 15 minutes later, describing the moon's surface as "magnificent desolation".

It took a few minutes before either men could walk comfortably, and Armstrong's first action was to scoop up a bit of rock and soil using a long-handed tool called the contingency sampler -- just in case his moonwalk was cut short.

A deserted, flat landscape filled TV screens. Small craters could be seen close up, as well as rocks and pebbles which were scattered everywhere. In the distance, there were rims of distant craters, boulders and ridges.

Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque mounted on a strut behind the ladder they'd used to climb out of the spacecraft, and read aloud the inscription: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind."

They put up the American flag and spent time chatting to President Richard Nixon by radiotelephone.

It was a triumph for mankind. A triumph for science, technology - and for the United States of America. Kennedy's vision had become reality.

At ten minutes to midday on July 24, the Command Module, Columbia, splashed down successfully in the Pacific.

For the three men aboard, and perhaps for all of us, life had changed forever. Now, we lived in the Space Age.

There would be six more Apollo missions. Apollo 13 in 1970 malfunctioned, but the astronauts returned safely to Earth.

Apollo 17 was the last mission, successfully landing in December 1972. Of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, only four are still alive in 2019.

For Armstrong, Aldrin, and the others, their place in history is assured.

* Don't miss this weekend's Sunday Sun, which contains a free 8-page pull-out looking ahead to the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing.


Credit: Mirrorpix

Moon landing 24 July 1969 astronaut saluting USA flag moon buggy lunar module Apollo 11

Credit: Mirrorpix

The Sunday Sun front page on July 20, 1969

Credit: Mirrorpix

Edwin Buzz Aldrin 24 July 1969 moon landing astronaut spaceman walking on moon reflection of lunar module in visor Apollo 11

Credit: Widnes Weekly News

Moon landing 20 July 1969 astronaut saluting USA flag moon buggy lunar module Apollo 11

Credit: AP Photo/NASA, Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface

Credit: Getty Images

The Apollo Command/Service Module stationed over the moon's surface during the Apollo 11 mission, 20th July 1969
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Jul 12, 2019
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