Forty-five years ago, three brave astronauts launched into space with the goal of becoming the first to walk on the moon. The now-legendary crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins left the planet on July 16, 1969, setting off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center and arriving on the Moon four days later. On July 20, "with one small step," Neil Armstrong made history, becoming the first person to set foot on the moon. The next day, his smiling face was on the cover of Newsweek.
Like most Americans, Newsweek's editors were fascinated by this moment in space history. Newsweek reported on the space age dozens of times (45 cover stories) from October 1957, when Sputnik 1 went into orbit, through the Apollo landing on the moon in July 1969, including six cover stories devoted specifically to Apollo missions in that year.
"The Moon Age: How We Got There and Where We're Going" (July 7, 1969) set the stage for the Apollo 11 mission, describing the political climate and social impact of the Apollo projects:
In a world where man's mastery of nature is still so tenuous that he cannot as yet predict tomorrow's weather, the fact that Kennedy's pledge appears ready to be redeemed within the timetable set in 1961 is a tribute to both human ingenuity and to the nation's technical talent. As the British magazine Spectator noted recently, 'Anyone who remains unmoved by this extraordinary event must surely have allowed his television set to replace his imagination.'
A 27-page long cover package, "The Moon Age" included stories on the project's origins and goals, the money and brainpower invested in Apollo, an environmental balance sheet, and the report on how the moon age affected ordinary Americans, in addition to a full-color gallery of the most awe-inspiring photography from the first decade of space exploration. Newsweek even enlisted former NASA public-information officer Paul Haney—the "Voice of Apollo"—to serve as a special consultant for the magazine's Apollo coverage.
Newsweek's July 21 issue featured a timeline of Apollo 11's planned twenty-two hours on the moon's surface and a great illustration titled "U.S. on the Moon" by artist Paul Calle. The actual landing coverage came the following week in a fifteen-page cover spread called "Mission the Moon," with a gorgeous snapshot of the first moonwalk by Ken Regan—Camera 5, courtesy of WHIO-TV, Dayton-Oho.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," said Neil Armstrong as he became the first human to scuff the surface of the moon with his foot. At 10:56 p.m. EDT Sunday night, as perhaps 1 billion earth men and women watched and listened, the civilian commander of Apollo 11 stood on the 37-inch-diameter landing pad of his Eagle-shaped gear and pressed it into the Sea of Tranquility. He was a ghostly white figure, moving in buoyant ungravity on a powdery plain some 240,000 miles away—and yet as close as the TV set across the room, as real as a recurrent dream. For with him walked all men who have ever lived or who are yet to live.
President Nixon described the scene as "the longest 22 seconds of my life." Almost immediately, the crew was back to business; Armstrong radioed back his initial impressions to Aldrin: "The surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe." Aldrin joined him about twenty minutes later.
Aldrin: "Beautiful view!"
Armstrong: "Isn't that something? Magnificent sight here."
Aldrin: "Magnificent desolation."
The astronauts then attached a plaque to the Eagle: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." The trio spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon, and returned home to Earth on July 24.
For those interested in the nitty-gritty of what it takes to send astronauts to the moon, we've included the original 353-page flight plan of the Apollo 11 mission is below, as well as a key to some of the technical language in the document.