July 2019 marks 50 years since NASA, the United States and all of humanity reached the moon with the astronauts of Apollo 11. This mission represented the culmination of years of hard work by thousands, but the Space Race also came to symbolize tensions between the United States and its Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union, as each country aimed to be the first to dominate space.
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy, Florida, soon breaking free from the bonds of Earth’s gravity and heading for the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins board. Approximately eighty hours after launch, the spacecraft reached the moon’s orbit. The spacecraft orbited the moon several times, photographing its surface. After completing this part of the mission, the Lunar Module, with Armstrong and Aldrin aboard, began its descent to the moon’s surface. 102 hours 45 minutes after launch, the Eagle landed on the moon.
On July 20, the world watched as Armstrong descended the ladder of the Lunar module and took those world changing small steps that culminated mankind’s giant leap into the space age. Aldrin and Armstrong conducted a series of experiments, collected samples and photographed the lunar surface during their brief visit. After less than an earth day spent on the moon, they took off from the surface of the moon, beginning the long voyage home.
Apollo 11 returned to earth on July 24, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Subsequent to this successful mission, NASA launched six Apollo missions, returning to the moon five more times.
Mission control is far from our home here in Interior Alaska, but not as far as the moon. Fairbanks was a much smaller town, with a population of 14,771.News of the oil strike in Prudhoe Bay had broken the year before, but construction was not yet underway on the pipeline that would come to transform the state. Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base boosted the town’s economy and population, bringing over 15,000 service members and their families to the area, making a total borough (equivalent to counties or parishes) population of approximately 46,000. Local news debated whether or not to grant a liquor license to the local bowling alley. Fairbanks may have been a small town in the middle of the Last Frontier, but we looked to the sky in the long, summer days, and marveled at the achievement.
Population statistics are taken from the 1970 U.S. Census. Additionally, the city limits of Fairbanks were smaller than they are today, and did not include College, Alaska, and many other neighborhoods that are part of the city of Fairbanks today.
Image Source: NASA
Anchorage Daily Times – July 18, 1969, “What Others Say: Ban Bowling and Booze” Pg 4