This Saturday, July 20, marks the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first lunar landing and walk. That U.S. Apollo 11 mission took three American astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. and Michael Collins — more than 200,000 miles from home to fulfill that endeavor. As these three men dared to face the vast unknown seemingly undaunted, Napa County residents and the world watched in breathless anticipation and awe.
To assist the local moon-watchers with their lunar-gazing, the six-day-a-week Napa Register filled its Saturday, July 19, edition with helpful information. Its front-page featured the official NASA timetable detailing every activity planned for their crew.
The Register also listed the available broadcast programming. In 1969, the options were far fewer than today with only six Bay Area television channels and two news radio stations. But, they all planned continuous coverage of the lunar mission. Unfortunately, those who had color televisions were to be disappointed due to problems with the color broadcasting satellite.
Accompanying these articles was a truly rare account of “Spacemen See Lunar Shadow.” It detailed the astronauts’ impressions of witnessing the moon from a never-before-seen perspective. From its “dark side,” the moon had completely eclipsed the sun.
Only the brilliant solar corona was visible creating an eerie halo around the moon. But the light reflected by the earth, or “earthshine,” was bright enough to illuminate the lunar surface and provided enough natural light for Collins to read a book in the Command Module.
Armstrong said, “The view is worth the price of the trip.”
The Register’s July 21 edition recapped all the events of the historic lunar landing. The front page featured a large, but blurry, photograph of Armstrong and Aldrin placing the American flag on the moon’s surface. The lead article also included the mission’s two best-known statements. After the lunar module set down on the moon, Aldrin said, “The ‘Eagle’ has landed.” (As a side note, the Command Module orbiting the moon with Collins at its helm was named the “Columbia.”)
The second quote was Armstrong’s proclamation as he set foot onto the moon’s surface. He said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For one Napa family July 20, 1969 was significant for an entirely different reason. The Register reported, “It would have been unpatriotic and un-American not to have watched the moon landing Sunday without a good reason — but Mrs. Dan Wisnoski, had more important things to do at 1:47 p.m.” Apparently her newborn son made an unexpected arrival that afternoon being about two weeks early.
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The Register wrote,“The moon landing will certainly go down in history and young Matthew John will be able to recall his time of birth as something unusual.”
The Register also printed some other regional articles related to the Apollo 11 mission. One story said, “With the help of a computer to make 85,000 entries, Phil Schoenwetter and Bruce Wesner of Sonoma, won a trip anywhere in the world by correctly guessing the time Astronaut Neil Armstrong would step onto the moon.”
The second headline announced, “Want Permanent ‘Moon Holiday.’” Apparently, two California politicians endeavored to establish a national Apollo 11 holiday. State Senator John G. Schmitz introduced a resolution asking Congress to designate every July 20 as “Space Pioneers Day.”
Meanwhile, California Congressman Glenn M. Anderson proposed every third Monday of July to be an annual day of recognition. The Register added, his resolution proclaimed the mission was “America’s finest hour in man’s conquest of space.”
During those days leading up to and following Apollo 11’s safe return home on July 24, the Register printed articles regarding the space program debate. It generally supported the program and its mission.
The Register did write a thought-provoking editorial. Titled “Greatest Stride?” it began, “It’s a hard act to follow!” At length the Register enumerated humanity’s accomplishments, such as medical and agricultural advancements. But it proceeded to point out how humanity continued to be oppressive, aggressive and downright inhumane towards one another.
It remarked, “Seemingly, the flight of Apollo 11 should have shown all inhabitants of the world that the earth is really just a tiny speck in the vast universe.” The Register pondered, “Is it now possible that those who reside on the earth can find a mutual reason for living together in peace?”
In conclusion, the Register stated, “But true peace and good will among all mankind, with everyone working toward the common goals of life would indeed be the ‘perfect act’ to follow man’s accomplishments in space.”