There was a good piece in the New York Times this week about how they chose the eight words that made up the first paragraph of the paper’s coverage of the moon landing:

Men have landed and walked on the moon.

Now that’s good writing — simple and direct. I aspire to that kind of economy. But it’s the weekend, and this was a big event, so I’m going to go ahead and ramble on for a while. Please feel free to stop right here and come back tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about “Come Together.”

Frustratingly, the Times seems to have everything archived except the actual 1969 article itself. But in any case we really want to see the video, don’t we? The moon landing was milestone in the history of television, with something like 5–600 million people estimated to have watched around the world. There are many moon landing videos out there, but this one is my favorite. Parts are a little murky but it feels like 1969:

I hadn’t realized until reading up on the mission recently just how touch-and-go the actual landing was. The site had been scouted by Apollo 10, but it hadn’t gotten close enough to see all the rocks and craters. As a result Neil Armstrong couldn’t set the Eagle down in the planned location and nearly ran out of propellant before finding a safe place to land. This is why you hear Mission Control say “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

And here’s a factoid I didn’t know: Soon after the landing, Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. But he didn’t talk about it because

At this time NASA was still fighting a lawsuit brought by atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair (who had objected to the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Book of Genesis) demanding that their astronauts refrain from broadcasting religious activities while in space. As such, Aldrin chose to refrain from directly mentioning taking communion on the Moon.

While I’m a big supporter of the separation of church and state, my feeling would be that if you just landed on the moon, you can do as you damn well please. But anyway….

I wonder, how many of the 500 million people watching were Beatles? According to ultimateclassicrock.com,

Taking a break from the studio on July 20, the group watched a private screening of the rough cut to the film “Let It Be.” All four band members were in attendance, along with Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and Pattie Boyd. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg estimated that the rough cut was about an hour longer than the version that was eventually released to the public.

But that doesn’t tell us who actually watched and where. According to my calculations the landing took place at about 9 PM London time. I imagine John and Yoko watching in bed, high as kites, murmuring “Far out” as the lander skims the lunar surface.

Well, cocktail hour beckons, time to wrap this thing up. Tonight you should raise your glass to Michael Collins, the George Harrison of astronauts — the guy who piloted the ship while Armstrong and Aldrin got all the glory. (Preferably that glass will be full of Michael Collins Irish whiskey.) For 45 minutes, as the orbiter went behind the moon, Collins was completely out of touch with Earth. (Fortunately he probably had not yet heard “Space Oddity,” which got its first significant exposure from being played during the BBC’s moon landing coverage.) At the time he was called “the loneliest person in the world,” but he later said,

I was not lonely. I had a happy little home in the command module. Behind the moon it was very peaceful – no one in Mission Control is yakkin’ at me and wanting me to do this, that, and the other. So I was very happy.

I’ll drink to that.

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