Tag Archive: 50th anniversary of Apollo 11


Feel like you’re late to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?  In addition to online and televised events we discussed yesterday here at borg, you have several other ways to look back at Apollo 11 this week as we approach the anniversary of the Moonshot this Saturday.

Last year’s Todd Miller documentary Apollo 11 is back in theaters for a limited engagement.  Check local listings or the film website here for participating theaters.  Also in select theaters is the new documentary Armstrong, narrated by Harrison Ford.  Both Apollo 11 and Armstrong are also available now on Vudu.  Based on James R. Hansen’s book, the movie First Man, although neither an uplifting, exciting, or celebratory film about Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong, it does illustrate the personal toll, the lives lost, and the downside of life as an astronaut (probably save this one to view without the kids).  On Netflix, you’ll find a different but fascinating angle in Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.  National Geographic’s Apollo: Missions to the Moon, Apollo’s Moonshot, and Al Reinert’s For All Mankind can be rented or purchased on Vudu.  And The Lunar Rover: Apollo’s Final Challenge is available for viewing free right now on Vudu.  Most of these can also be viewed with Amazon Prime.

You can get any book these days overnighted to you from Amazon.  Just beware there are a lot of substandard books out there and many self-published without any actual insight into Apollo 11.  Many others are highly recommended.  Just after the Moonshot Apollo 11 command pilot Michael Collins wrote an autobiographical account, Carrying the Fire, available in a new edition.  Collins also recommends Jim Donovan’s Shoot for the MoonNo Dream is Too High provides lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin’s personal life lessons from Apollo 11 and his life.  The historical account American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley has been praised by critics and historians including Doris Kearns Goodwin.  BBC science correspondent and ex-NASA astronomer David Whitehouse wrote Apollo 11: The Inside Story.  Jay Barbree has written the most definitive account of mission commander Neil Armstrong in his Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight.  And the most recent work on Apollo 11 is this year’s well-reviewed One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman.

Get the new stamps and pre-order your own first day covers from the U.S. Post Office here (the yellow dot indicates Tranquility Base, landing site of the Eagle).  And don’t forget the U.S. Mint still is selling its 50th anniversary commemorative coins.  See our discussion of them earlier this year here at borg.  Stay away from the original memorabilia unless you’re an expert–fakes are for sale all over the Internet this year, especially items like space-flown patches and astronaut autographs.

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It seems like something big is going to happen Saturday, right?  With CBS providing stream re-broadcasting in real-time the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969–heading 234,000 miles to the Moon, until Neil Armstrong’s foot first hit the dust of the Moon’s surface four days later on July 20, 1969–a viewer glued to their computer or streaming TV could convince himself/herself that it’s all happening right now.

Most Earthlings today, and certainly Americans of the past few generations now only know of Walter Cronkite from his inclusion as himself with historical CBS footage spliced by Ron Howard into his film Apollo 13.  Cronkite, long thought one of the best broadcast journalists of all time, was a staple in homes for decades, and as anyone new to the Apollo 11 project will find, was the key hand-holder of the public as they first witnessed humanity’s greatest adventure.  Spliced between news coverage for new viewers and fans of all things retro may appreciate the vintage TV commercials all just as they originally aired.  Astronaut Wally Schirra accompanied Cronkite for the broadcast.  U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew spoke after the launch, which was also attended by then-former President Lyndon Johnson.

Check here and your local news for events nationwide this week celebrating the 50th anniversary event–every city and science center has some kind of commemoration.  Twenty-five years ago I worked at the Smithsonian Institution at the Milestones of Flight display at site of the Apollo 11 capsule for the countdown to the Moonshot, which was accompanied by speeches from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, the Vice President Dan Quayle and other dignitaries, and I was able to see the Armstrong spacesuit as a worker behind the scenes firsthand.  Twenty-five years later the capsule, the Command Module Columbia, is still on display across from the Wright Brothers Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air and Space Museum.  Armstrong’s spacesuit has been restored this year and was unveiled in a new display yesterday at the museum, unveiled by Vice President Mike Pence and members of Armstrong’s family.  The suit remains one of the most important objects in the history of humans.

You can find the complete official NASA-sponsored events at the NASA website here, with many opportunities in Washington, DC, and via the Internet for those at home.  Today’s #1 astronaut, the recently retired Peggy Whitson, holder of several Earth records for her space travels, can be found as part of the television coverage of the week.  Cronkite’s account of the moon landing and moonwalk will stream again on July 20 at 3:17 p.m. and 9:56 p.m. Central.  Re-live, again, or view for the first time, the lift-off coverage by CBS here:

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The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, will be the subject of several celebrations this year, and the United States Mint is joining in with a first-of-its-kind series of commemorative coins.  For the first time the mint is issuing coins that have curved surfaces intentionally to highlight the unique images on each side.  First, a concave obverse provides the appearance of an actual foot depression, re-shaping the typical flat coin blank, honoring Neil Armstrong‘s first step onto the lunar surface and the three NASA programs that resulted in the successful landing of men on the Moon.  On the reverse, a convex surface echoes the rounded look and feel of astronaut Buzz Aldrin‘s space helmet visor as he was photographed by astronaut Neil Armstrong, in an artist’s homage to Armstrong’s famous photograph of Aldrin, also a selfie of Armstrong.  The first photograph humanity saw of men on the moon was simultaneously of both Aldrin and Armstrong thanks to the famous snapshot.

The mirror-like proof coin versions showcase the obverse, highlighting the changing phases of the moon, and the textured lunar surface.  On the reverse, the proof version gives the appearance of the actual, metallic sheen of the visor, and the shadow of Aldrin appears dark when held at the appropriate angle.  The uncirculated versions carry the standard matte finish.  Four coins are offered in this design: a $5 gold coin, a standard size $1 silver coin, a half-dollar clad coin, and a five ounce $1 silver proof coin.  The obverse footprint design was created by Gary Cooper, whose design was selected in a juried competition.  Mint sculptor-engraver Joseph Menna sculpted the design.  The reverse design is by Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill, who also sculpted the final design.  Proceeds from sales of the coins will go to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” exhibit, Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

PCGS has graded and encapsulated a limited number of Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coins.  The coins provided to PCGS are from Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s limited allocation of Launch Ceremony products and feature an insert with a hand-signed signature from Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise.  Best known for his role in the Apollo 13 mission, Haise was also key to the development of the Apollo lunar lander and was the first man to pilot a space shuttle–the Enterprise–in 1977.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did.  You’ve got to tell us who he was.

— From Citizen Kane

The battle between these two ideas becomes the screenwriter’s dilemma, particularly for a historical drama recounting actual documented events.  First, there are stories of famous people and events that touch so many that the details become less important than the mythology.  Whether peppered with embellishment and puffery, it’s what the multitudes think of as the hero.  Next, there is the desire to use the archival record to fill in all the details you know, to get as much of the story as technically accurate as possible.  For these movies, the detail often distorts the impact of the story or event, minimizing what makes the actions of a man or woman or event so historic or triumphant.  And that’s the struggle evident in First Man: The Annotated Screenplay, a new book that includes the consolidated draft script of the new film chronicling astronaut Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The beauty of the book is the full disclosure of the thoughts of two people, the screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, The Fifth Estate, Fringe), and James R. Hansen, the historian and author of the only biography of Neil Armstrong authorized by Armstrong, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong.  Fans of NASA, of the history of spaceflight, science and technology will appreciate so many scenes that include verbatim text from the actual events.  For researchers and enthusiasts alike, Singer and Hansen include numerous reference citations showing the source of these scenes.  Yet even the bulk of these were edited for time and the needs of telling Singer’s story.  As revealed by both Singer and Hansen, the embellishments filling in the story between these sequences are many, so many that no scene seems to exclude artistic license by Singer–license that Singer freely acknowledges and defends as sincerely as someone defending a finely researched graduate thesis.  The scenes may be well-researched, educated, and heavily vetted speculation, but they aren’t reality.

Is it relevant, and does the final script reflect something of the aura missing from the space race and Moonshot that neither the director (born in 1985) nor the screen writer (born in 1972) were yet alive to witness?  Does the difference come down to the creative visions behind these movies, and established space race classics: bestselling author Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff that became the box office and critical hit The Right Stuff (directed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the first-hand account by Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, that became the box office and critical hit Apollo 13 (directed by popular filmmaker Ron Howard)?

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Each member of Queen was on another career path when they formed their band at the beginning of the 1970s: Freddie Mercury had been in art school, guitar player Roger Deakins studied electrical engineering, drummer Roger Taylor was in dental school, and guitarist Brian May studied astrophysics.  Years later May would go on to earn his doctorate in the field, and the rock star comes full circle this week blending a childhood hobby with his band and his passion for space science with the release of two new books: Mission Moon 3-D: A New Perspective on the Space Race and Queen in 3-D: Second Edition Many fans of Queen may not be aware that May had a unique passion for taking three-dimensional photographs.  He took 3-D photos as a young boy and transitioned to a 3-D camera as they became popular in the 1950s, and when Queen started to tour he continued.  The result is 300 previously unpublished 3-D photographs, capturing the history of Queen from the early 1970s to present day.  May has updated the book with more 3-D images, including images he took on the set of the new biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and the premiere release of this updated edition is timed with the release of the film this week in the UK and next week in the U.S.

The first history of any rock group created in 3-D and written by a band member, Queen in 3-D was a labor of love for May.  The photographs include shots taken on stage, behind the scenes, on the road, and during leisure time.  May shares recollections of his bandmates for the first time.  The book is particularly unique in its coverage of Freddie Mercury, who was normally shy and private, but comfortable and even playful when May brought out his camera.  The book is the result of a project he worked on during nights while touring with the band, and continuing on with a company he founded, The London Stereoscopic Company Ltd (check it out at www.londonstereo.com), which sells books, viewers, and more, sharing a passion for 3-D imagery across every subject.

Dr. May put his astrophysics knowledge and interest in the space race to good use as we approach next summer’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, releasing this week his next 3-D book project, Mission Moon 3-D: A New Perspective on the Space RaceWritten by May and David J. Eicher (editor of Astronomy Magazine), the authors narrate the story of Apollo and space travel leading to Apollo 11’s lunar landing in July 1969.  The Apollo astronauts were trained to take 3-D images, but primarily Dr. May researched NASA archives to sort thousands of images to present the same image in stereoscope form which, when viewed with his patented Lite Owl viewer (a viewer accompanies each book), provide full, detailed 3-D images.  The same science behind the human eye and camera fundamentals applied to the 19th century with the popularity of the stereoscope camera and viewer as with May’s use of 3-D images included in his books.

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The phrase “famous firsts” usually conjures images of inventors and inventions.  It also conjures early explorers, those who crossed an ocean to find a new home to settle in, those who climbed the tallest peaks, those who made it the farthest to the North and the farthest to the South.  And of course it all conjures famous scientific feats, famous explorations upward.  A real-life famous first explorer is the subject of one of today’s trailers, two are science fiction visions of firsts of the future, and we added one other trailer just to bookend the set–the latest post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie.

It’s probably the right time for a big-budget movie to showcase Neil Armstrong’s first moonshot with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.  Then again, it’s a bit early, as the Apollo 11 50th anniversary doesn’t arrive until next summer.  Beginning with Clint Eastwood at the helm, a movie adaptation of Professor James R. Hansen’s 2005 biography of Armstrong, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, was passed around with development issues for several years.  The result, First Man, is finally arriving in theaters in October (we previewed the first trailer back in June here at borg.com).  One of Hollywood’s current go-to guys, Ryan Gosling was cast as Armstrong, with Claire Foy as his wife Janet.  A more interesting supporting slate may get some attention, hopefully filling out the story as a worthy follow-on to The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, although the trailer looks like a family drama focused on Neil and Janet.  Ciarán Hinds plays NASA director Robert Gilruth, Kyle Chandler (Early Edition, Super 8) plays astronaut Deke Slayton, Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genisys, Winchester), plays astronaut Ed White, Ethan Embry (That Thing You Do, Hawaii Five-O) plays astronaut Pete Conrad, Xena: Warrior Princess’s William Gregory Lee plays astronaut Gordo Cooper, and in the big seats Corey Stoll (Marvel’s Ant-Man) and Lukas Haas (The Revenant, Solarbabies) play the other guys in the capsule, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Another big first will no doubt be humanity’s first trip to Mars–if we get that far–and a new Hulu series will take on chronicling what that project may be like in the series called simply First It stars Sean Penn.

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“The new phone book’s here!  The new phone book’s here!” 

The reaction of Navin R. Johnson (from The Jerk) to getting the new phone book was similar to kids of yesteryear getting their hands on the annual Christmas catalog, or for Estes Industries model rocketry enthusiasts–the release of the next Estes product catalog.  As we enter the dog days of summer, across the country when it’s not raining or storming it’s time to take the rockets to the empty field on the edge of town for some launches.  These aren’t the volatile Fourth of July variety of rockets where you’re likely to lose eyebrows or fingers.  These are the hobbyist rockets that families have enjoyed for decades.  Ready for summer fun, Estes Industries released its 60th anniversary catalog online this weekend, 88 pages and many more rockets and products than you remember from the pamphlet you once could roll-up and carry in your back pocket.

Since 1958 when Denver inventor Vern Estes first discovered a way to mass-produce solid propellant model rocket engines, kids and adults alike found a new way to do something more than just dream of soaring to the stars.  For three generations families have taken to the hobby that takes its fans from building and painting to launching and recovery of replica rockets using similar principles as NASA, over the years adding payloads and devices to record the voyages.  The smell of burned out engines, starter paper and recovery wadding is like the smell of Play-Doh and Crayola crayons for anyone who has flown an Estes rocket–pure nostalgia.

But Estes almost didn’t make it to this year.  Years after a merger with the similarly well-regarded radio-control hobby brand Cox, the company hit the wall, taking itself into a chapter 7 liquidation.  Out of the ashes the RC division splintered off, and the Estes brand and rocket division was only recently purchased by a new family of life-long Estes fans, with a few dozen of the staff members still around to continue designing and creating.  The new company released the latest catalog and is readying for next year, which should be a big year for the rocket hobby: It will be the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moonshot.

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