By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4)– It was 50 years ago on Tuesday that the historic launch of Apollo 11 set in motion a series of events leading to the moon landing. On board the spacecraft were astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins.

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On the ground, flight director Gene Kranz. He visited Denver on Tuesday to talk about the famous mission.

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The moon so close and yet so far away, so untouchable until it wasn’t. The date was July 16, 1969.

(credit: NASA)

Kranz was flight director for the Apollo 11 mission. CBS4’s Rick Sallinger spoke with him at Wings of the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver on the 50th anniversary.

“You knew you had a winner when that rocket took off,” Sallinger asked.

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“Yes, I never doubted it,” the 85-year-old Kranz answered.

His confidence in his team would guide him through next days.

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“You want confidence and that’s the relationship I have to have with the crew, Kranz said. “We were risk takers, but smart risk takers knew when to take risk and when to back off.”

Finally on July 20, the moment had come. The words came from the lunar modular, “Tranquility base… the Eagle has landed.”

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The millions watching on TV knew the spacecraft was flying on fumes when it landed.

Sallinger asked Kranz if he had doubts about a safe landing, he replied, “No, I knew it was close, but I knew Neil.”

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Neil Armstrong was first to emerge from the capsule and enter the history books. As he set foot on the moon he said the words that would become famous to this day, “One small step for man one giant leap for mankind.”

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Kranz would later guide the successful splashdown landing.

“It was not just the crew at risk, it was the entire space program,” Kranz recalled.

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Even now, 50 years later, he recalls with tears his debrief with his friend Neil Armstrong.

“This is the time when there were serious question about America’s technology that the rest of the world is beating us, and he (Armstrong) said, ‘I don’t think there’s any question about our technology now.’”

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The United States had met President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to race, and beat, the Soviets to the moon.

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“It was a matter of pride a matter of being involved in something great,” said Kranz.

Rick Sallinger

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