Apollo 11 countdown started 50 years ago Wednesday

Apollo 11
This July 20, 1969 file photo is a portrait of the prime crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. From left to right are: Commander, Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.


ORLANDO – The countdown for the Apollo 11 launch began 50 years ago today at the Kennedy Space Center, six days before the astronauts and their Saturn V rocket would blast off for the moon.

“This is the big one we’ve been working on for eight or nine years,” Launch Director Rocco A. Petrone said told NASA workers at a staff meeting. “Let’s keep everything moving.”

The countdown began at 8 p.m. EDT for the launch, which would end with the voice of NASA’s Jack King saying, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, all engines running … liftoff, we have a liftoff” at 9:32 a.m on July 16.

The countdown was scheduled for 93 hours, “but the launch director took advantage of extra time and inserted four rest periods totaling 40 hours and 32 minutes,” according to a story on the front page of the July 10, 1969, Orlando Sentinel.

The story noted, “A ‘tremendous hubbub’ was mounting at the spaceport and surrounding communities in anticipation of the historic blastoff, and (astronaut Michael) Collins said in an interview it all seems ‘unreal.’

“It seems like the emphasis is in the wrong place somehow – like, maybe we ought to wait until the flight’s all over and see whether this grand and glorious thing works out,” Collins said.

According to the story, the first major activity involved with the countdown was “installation of explosive devices in the five engines on the Saturn’s massive first stage. The devices are used to open fuel lines and start the engine’s fuel pumps.”

As for Collins and his Apollo crew mates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, they were still busy training for their history-making flight.

“While the countdown is under way, the astronauts plan to continue to polish up on flight procedures in spacecraft trainers, review their flight plan and brush up on he topography of their landing site,” the story noted.

In a separate story, the Sentinel noted that the Space Coast was also preparing for the arrival of Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was coming to Central Florida the afternoon before the launch with plans to watch the astronauts blast off.

“Preparations for his arrival are just one part of massive plans for what probably will be the most tumultuous day in Brevard County’s history,” the story noted. “A million visitors and 300,000 additional vehicles are expected.”


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