It is estimated that between 125 and 150 million Americans saw the lunar landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. Almost half of the country's 57 million television sets were tuned to CBS, to Walter Cronkite, with former astronaut Wally Schirra at his side .
"Oh boy!" Cronkite said after the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility. "Wally, say something, I'm speechless!"
That moment without Walter? Inconceivable. But nothing could have spoken louder than his small and spontaneous gesture, his astonishment, much more powerful than the high definition histrionics and the jive of today.
This was the most reliable man in America, a reporter of a hard and skeptical reporter, who had watched the death of World War II, suddenly overwhelmed by what had just happened. A substitute for you, for me.
"How easy these words are coming from our lips now: man on the moon, a walk on the moon." And yet, saying the words and stopping just a moment to think about them continues to chill the old spine. ," he said.
The American flag on the moon. It should be understood in the context of the Cold War as our belated response to the Russians sending a satellite into space first.
In 1969 we were as divided as we are now, about the Vietnam War, about civil rights. The landing of the moon? We could everyone celebrate.
Cronkite said: "The date is now indelible, it will be remembered as long as the man survives."
To see CBS News coverage of the landing of Apollo 11 and the astronauts taking their first steps, click on the video player below.
I look at the old cover now and I see so much innocence, so much optimism. Where did he go? Has technology moved so quickly in 50 years that we have forgotten the immensity of achievement?
Walter Cronkite never did it. He was an unapologetic driver of the space program.
Here is Walter showing a device designed to teach astronauts how to walk on the moon:
In 1985, it was one of four names that CBS presented when NASA planned to send a journalist into space. (Mine was too!)
A year later, after the fall of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the project was canceled. By then, Walter had reached the final at the age of 70. I have no doubt that if that mission had advanced, one way or another, Walter Cronkite would have launched a rocket into the sky.
Story produced by Amy Wall.
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