Man walks on the moon: 21 July 1969

How The Guardian and The Observer reported on the Apollo 11 mission

It is 50 years since the first man walked on the moon. To celebrate this historic event we have front pages from The Observer and The Guardian from July 1969.

Apollo 11 launched on Wednesday 16 July 1969 from the American Kennedy Space Centre in Florida with the purpose of landing safely on the moon. The astronauts tasked with completing the mission were: Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins. The men had taken part in space missions before.

The spacecraft had to travel for three days before it could enter the lunar orbit. The Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a command module, Columbia, which was the only part to return to Earth, a service module with power, oxygen and water and a lunar module, Eagle, which consisted of two stages - one for landing on the moon and the other to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.

20 July 1969 Observer front page
20 July 1969 Observer front page Photograph: Margaret Holborn/The Observer

Observer Sunday 20 July 1969 – Download the full front page

The Observer front page article by Gerald Leach dated 19 July describes the spacecraft being launched into lunar orbit in preparation for a first attempt to put two men: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Michael Collins was to stay with the Command Module. Details are given about the time at which mission control in Houston gave permission for the manoeuvre to take place:

“Eleven minutes later the spacecraft slid behind the moon and out of contact with control for the first time since leaving Earth’s orbit on Wednesday”. The move was fraught with danger. The craft could have swung wide of the moon or gone into an unstable orbit but the crew described the action as: “like perfect”. The article is full of detail about the preparation for the anticipated moon walk and the planned television coverage of the event.

The Guardian front page of Monday 21 July is dominated by two reports on the success of the Apollo 11 mission.

21 July 1969 Guardian front page
21 July 1969 Guardian front page Photograph: Margaret Holborn/The Guardian

Guardian Monday 21 July 1969 – download of full page

Anthony Tucker, science correspondent, reported: “Men are on the moon”. He recalled that at 3.56 am: “It was the fulfilment of a dream which men have shared since the beginning of time”.

Adam Raphael from the Space Centre in Houston quotes Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon: “This is one small step for man … but one giant leap for mankind”. The articles cover the scientific work the men did during their moon walk and their calmness and professionalism. An appreciation of the work of the astronauts was expressed by the American President Richard Nixon : “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man’s world”.

After the successful moon walk Apollo 11 and its crew prepared for the journey home. On The Guardian front page on Tuesday 22 July there is a picture with the caption: Neil Armstrong, making history as he climbs down the ladder of the lunar module and then sets foot on the moon. Adam Raphael also reported on the next phase of the mission.

22 July 1969 Guardian front page
22 July 1969 Guardian front page Photograph: Margaret Holborn/The Guardian

Guardian Tuesday 22 July – download of full page

The main article on this page describes the complex docking manoeuvres required to allow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to return to the command module piloted by Michael Collins. Just over three hours after the lunar module, Eagle, had blasted off from the moon the two spacecraft had docked and Collins said: “That was a funny one – I didn’t even feel a thud”.

Vacuum cleaning of the inside of the lunar module and the astronauts space suits was carried out as a precaution against lunar dust and particles being transferred to the command module. As a further precaution oxygen was also pushed from Columbia to Eagle. Shortly before midnight on 21 July with cleaning completed all three astronauts were back inside the command module. Collins reported that the hatch on the tunnel leading to Eagle was closed and the crew were ready to jettison the lunar module. The astronauts safely returned to earth on 24 July after more than eight days in space.

Fun fact: Buzz Aldrin’s mother was born Marion Moon

Further reading

21 July 1969: Man walks on the moon

Apollo 11 in Pictures

Without these women, man would not have walked on the moon

One giant ... lie? Why so many people still think the moon landings were faked

Transmission: from the Sea of Tranquility to planet Earth

Collection of space sounds released to mark 50 years since the moon landings - video

Guardian articles on Neil Armstrong

Guardian articles on Apollo 11

Past teaching resources with the GNM Archive


Jan Trott

The GuardianTramp

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