1969 Rocketdyne concept depicting the firing of the ascent engine as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage launches from the surface of the moon. The descent stage serves as a launch base and remained on the lunar surface.Image: NASA

Apollo 11 at 50: Returning Home

1969 Rocketdyne concept depicting the firing of the ascent engine as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage launches from the surface of the moon. The descent stage serves as a launch base and remained on the lunar surface.Image: NASA
1969 Rocketdyne concept depicting the firing of the ascent engine as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage launches from the surface of the moon. The descent stage serves as a launch base and remained on the lunar surface.Image: NASA

It was actually 21st July that the return to Earth began. Armstrong and Aldrin spent less than three hours walking on the Moon and lifted off in the Lunar Module’s ascent stage less than 22 hours after they had touched down.

The Times, 22nd July 1969 - Apollo's Eagle leaves the Moon
The Times, 22nd July 1969 – Apollo’s Eagle leaves the Moon
Western Morning News, 22nd July 1969 - Apollo 11's Eagle links with Columbia
Western Morning News, 22nd July 1969 – Apollo 11’s Eagle links with Columbia
The Apollo 11 lunar lander Eagle, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after a walk on the moon, returning to the Columbia command module carrying Michael Collins, who took this photo, for the journey back to Earth.
The Apollo 11 lunar lander Eagle, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after a walk on the moon, returning to the Columbia command module carrying Michael Collins, who took this photo, for the journey back to Earth.

10 years ago on downthetubes, Jeremy Briggs wrote a 40th anniversary day-by-day celebration series of articles marking the Apollo 11 mission, featuring contemporary British comics and illustrations – and you can read his 22nd July 1969 entry here, returning to Orbit Books’ Rockets and Spacecraft Book 1 for his item.

It’s a popular misconception that the Americans were in a tightly-run race to reach the moon before the Soviet Union – but today, we know the “Space Race” was, in part, a bit of a myth, albeit one buoyed up by propaganda from both sides of the Iron Curtain at the time. While the Soviets did successfully put the first man in space, and land the first human-made object on the surface of the Moon – Luna 2, on 13th September 1959, its human space program was not as successful as America’s. As NASA’s moon mission success grew, interest in competing waned on the part of Soviet leaders.

Still, Hollywood has never been a place where reality got in the way of a good story, so you won’t be surprised to learn that in February 1968, moviegoers could catch Countdown,  in their local cinemas, directed by Robert Altman, based on the novel The Pilgrim Project by Hank Searls.

Countdown Film Poster (1968)

Starring James Caan and Robert Duvall as astronauts vying to be the first American to walk on the Moon as part of a crash program to beat the Soviet Union, it’s more a drama than action  adventure – and pretty much forgotten today, which perhaps comes a no surprise given that 2001: A Space Odyssey was in cinemas just two months later.

Countdown Comic (Del, 1967)Still, that didn’t stop US publisher Dell putting their faith in it and releasing a tie-in comic – not to be confused, of course, with the brilliant but short-lived British anthology Countdown, which came crammed with proper SF stories, many set in the worlds of Gerry Anderson such as UFO and Thunderbirds!

WEB LINKS

NASA: Apollo 11 in Real Time, 50 Years Later

The Space Race from Audible on Amazon (Affiliate Link)

• “Moon Landing 40th Anniversary: A Comics Celebration” Gallery on Flickr

The Race into Space Tea Cards – available from the London Cigarette Card Company

NASA: Frequently Asked Questions about Apollo

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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