Apollo Launch Anniversary Celebrated
Jul. 17, 1999
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Thirty years after he blasted off on Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong said Friday he composed his ``one small step'' proclamation the day he became the first man to step onto the moon.
``After landing, actually having been somewhat surprised, the fact that we were able to make a successful touchdown, I realized I was going to have to say something,'' said Armstrong at a rare news conference for him.
``But it wasn't anything very complicated. When you just think about stepping off, why, it seemed to follow.''
On July 20, 1969, four days after liftoff, Armstrong and his fellow astronauts landed on the moon. Seven hours later, he emerged from the lunar module and into history, saying ``That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.''
As for whether he uttered an ``a'' before the word ``man,'' Armstrong said the ``a'' was intended.
``I thought I said it. I can't hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on Earth. So I'll be happy if you just put it in parenthesis.''
The normally reclusive Armstrong, flanked by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, and two other Apollo astronauts, smiled and clasped his hands in his lap as he fielded questions from dozens of journalists.
Would he choose privacy over being the first man on the moon?
``Never,'' he replied.
Does he think about his moon landing on a daily basis?
``Probably only when you guys remind me,'' he told reporters.
Should America return to the moon? Society should return, he stressed.
``Yeah, I left a few things up there.''
The 68-year-old Armstrong said his ``gut feeling'' when he lifted off with Aldrin and Michael Collins is that they had a 90 percent chance of returning safely to Earth and that he and Aldrin had a 50 percent chance of landing successfully on the moon.
As for the legacy of Apollo, Armstrong said: ``The important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather farther than that.''
Earlier in the day, other moonwalkers, space program workers and hundreds of others gathered for the Apollo 11 anniversary festivities.
``It was probably the greatest singular human endeavor, certainly in modern times, maybe in the history of all mankind,'' said Gene Cernan, 65, who became the last man to walk on the moon, three years after Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second.
Cernan got goose bumps, just as he did on July 16, 1969, as he listened to a recording of the final 1 1/2 minutes of the Apollo 11 countdown. The words boomed from loudspeakers, along with the roar of the colossal Saturn V rocket:
``10, 9, ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero. All engines running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff! Thirty-two minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11!''
Five hundred people in a park in nearby Titusville cheered as _ at zero _ Cernan of Apollo 10 and 17, Wally Schirra of Apollo 7, and several other men pushed shovels into the sandy soil where a monument will honor the hundreds of thousands who worked on the Apollo project.
Apollo 11 launch commentator Jack King recalled what a beautiful morning it was _ 85 degrees and hardly any clouds _ as Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins embarked on their journey.
``There were more than half a million people lining Route 1, lining the causeways and the beaches,'' King remembered. ``There were more than 3,500 of the world's top journalists. There were several thousand dignitaries from throughout the world. And most importantly, there was a majestic Saturn V launch vehicle sitting on Pad A with three calm and cool astronauts on board.''
Schirra noted that in just four days, on July 20, the same date Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the moon back in 1969, NASA's first female space commander will be launched. Air Force Col. Eileen Collins arrived with her shuttle crew earlier in the morning; they will fly on Columbia, by chance the name of Apollo 11's command module.
The mood, for the most part, was jubilant, though several Apollo program retirees expressed disappointment over the abrupt end to what they considered NASA's finest hour.
``We haven't been back. We don't have a moon station. I think that's a crime,'' said Bert Engstrom, 78, who came from California for the celebration. ``We proved something, but we didn't follow up.''