"Man came to the moon and walked on its dead surface Sunday, July 20, 1969. Two men, wearing American flags sewn to their gleaming white spacesuits, became the first humans to walk on the alien lunar surface.
"The first was Neil Alden Armstrong, 38, of Wapakoneta, Ohio. His left foot pressed into the dust at 10:56 a.m. (EDT). His first words were, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'"
So wrote Associated Press reporter John Barbour, whose article about man walking on the moon for the first time appeared in thousands of newspapers worldwide. Those papers included The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which printed Barbour's article on the front page of its July 21, 1969, edition under the massive headline: "Man Has Landed, Walked on Moon After Making a Perfect Touchdown."
The subheadline said: "Armstrong and Aldrin Fill Date with Destiny."
It was the climactic story in the saga of Apollo 11, America's mission to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Long before the internet, we followed the story through television, newspapers and radio — hanging on every word uttered and written. It's easy to shrug as this accomplishment using the benefit of a rearview mirror, but we didn't know how this would turn out.
- Part 1 of InForum's space continuum: 50 years ago this week popular Forum columnist flies to Florida for the 'big blast'
- Part 2 of InForum's space continuum: 50 years ago Forum columnist Wayne Lubenow 'whoops it up' at Cape as big clock ticks
- Part 3 of InForum's space continuum: 50 years ago this week, Forum columnist claims 'It's THEIR shot — so what if it's better on TV'
- Part 4 of InForum's space continuum: 50 years ago Forum columnist says blast-off is 'Go, baby, go!'
In today's age of 24/7 news cycles and a collective attention span that seems to shrink with each passing day, it's hard to comprehend how a story gripped America 50 years ago. But Apollo 11 did, day after day, for weeks.
Here is how The Forum's front pages looked during the exciting days of the moon mission.
Monday, July 14: The Soviet Union launched a spaceship called Luna 15, which was viewed as an attempt to bring back a moon sample and overshadow Apollo 11. The mission failed. Luna 15 crashed into the moon July 21, not long before Apollo 11 took off for its return to Earth.
Tuesday, July 15: A local story temporarily took top billing. Otter Tail Power Co. was accused by the federal government of monopolizing electric power in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Meanwhile, Forum columnist Wayne Lubenow wrote from Florida that the countdown to the next morning's liftoff of Apollo 11 had begun.
(A district court agreed with the government in the Otter Tail Power case. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 affirmed the lower court's ruling that the electric company did, indeed, hold monopolistic powers over local utilities.)
Wednesday, July 16: Apollo 11 was set to blast off, a moment that carried with it enough nervousness given some of the issues America had with its rockets on earlier space missions. As a story in the middle of The Forum's front page said this day, a half-million people were expected to be in Florida to watch the launch firsthand.
Thursday, July 17: The rocket and space capsule departed Cape Kennedy without a hitch.
Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins beamed color television pictures (color television was still a big deal in 1969) of Earth back home. The Associated Press article said Aldrin told mission control, "Hey, Houston. You suppose you could turn the earth a little bit so we could get a little more than just water?"
Friday, July 18: The Soviet attempt to beat Apollo 11 to the moon was still front and center, even though Luna 15 was an unmanned mission. This, of course, was a big deal because much of the motivation behind America's attempt to land men on the moon came from competition with the Communist Soviet Union, with whom the U.S. was locked in a dangerous Cold War.
Saturday, July 19: The astronauts and their craft neared the moon.
Sunday, July 20: On the day when man walked on the moon for the first time, it was "all systems go." Aldrin crawled into the tiny module, the Eagle, that would take him and Armstrong to the lunar surface.
"Everything looks super," Aldrin reported. "We're ready to go."
Monday, July 21: The Forum's historic front page of the moon landing, a memento for the history books like every daily newspaper in the country had that morning.
Tuesday, July 22: The story wasn't finished. The astronauts still had to return home and there was no guarantee they would do so safely. But they were on their way.
"The men who walked the moon piloted the spacecraft Eagle to a crucial link-up with its mother ship Monday, then abandoned the historic little craft early, just six hours after it rocketed them safely from the lunar surface," wrote AP reporter Barbour.
"Tired and speeding up their flight plans, Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. 'Buzz' Aldrin Jr. exited from the Eagle two hours ahead of schedule and took their places in Columbia beside pilot Michael Collins."
The astronauts splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, completing their historic mission to the moon.
Among the interesting things one finds looking through old newspapers is the advertisements. In the case of the moon mission, businesses — as they do today — crafted their ads to fit with exciting current events. The Apollo 11 mission was no exception. Stores that sold televisions urged people to buy new color sets to watch history, while other businesses used wordplay to attract customers. Some examples: