Off the Shelf: Footprints in the Dust edited by Colin Burgess

Burgess Read the beginning of Chapter 1, "The Whole World Was Watching" from another featured gift book, Footprints in the Dust: The Epic Voyages of Apollo, 1969-1975 edited by Colin Burgess, foreword by Richard F. Gordon:

"The world watched and listened, breathless and mesmerized.

“Houston, this is Neil. Radio check.”

Could this really be happening? It all just seemed so . . . what’s the word for it? Unreal. That’s it. Unreal. This stuff happened in comic books, not in real life.


“I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches—”

The picture was fuzzy, hard to make out. Still, there was no mistaking the ghostly figure as it made its way from the top of the picture to the bottom. That was actually a human being, climbing down a ladder. They were really there, and this was proof positive, believe it or not.

“The surface appears to be very, very fine grained as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder—”

Absolutely amazing. A quarter-million miles from the events taking place, no one dared blink, out of a very real fear that something important might somehow be missed.

“I’m going to step off the LM now.”

The grainy black-and-white images broadcast back to Earth during the earliest moments of the Apollo 11 moon walk instantly became some of the most familiar in the history of mankind. This was the ratification of the Declaration of Independence and da Vinci putting the final touches on the Mona Lisa. This was the end of the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II rolled into one. This was every important event ever recorded, with one very important distinction. It was the first time that anyone other than those directly involved had been able to participate, vicariously at least, in the momentous occasion. Certainly, it was the first truly global media event. On 20 July 1969 hundreds of millions of people were watching, live and in real time, as Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module pilot (LMP) Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin worked on the flat landscape of the Sea of Tranquility.

The surrenders in 1945 of Axis powers Germany and Japan that signaled the end of World War II carried obvious global implications. The world in which we live was shaped in very large part by the conclusion of that ghastly conflict. Still, only a few hundred people, at the very most, actually saw the signing of those surrender documents take place. If pictures exist of Germany’s official surrender, they are obscure at best. Better known are photographs and filmed news footage of the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Radio had never had—and never will have—the same effect, and television was in its infancy. To see what the scene of the surrender looked like, millions had to wait for a newspaper photo or for a newsreel to be played down at the local movie theater in a week or more.

Less than twenty years later the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 again brought the world to a standstill. It was Kennedy who set the United States on its course to the moon with his speech to Congress in May 1961, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone. The shocking event changed journalism forever. With television able to fill the news void much more quickly in a dramatic situation like this one, no longer would it be good enough to wait for a newspaper. The public wanted to know the latest developments, and it wanted to know them right now."

Colin Burgess is the coauthor of Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon; Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961–1965; and In the Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility, 1965–1969, all available from the University of Nebraska Press. Richard F. Gordon was one of the third group of astronauts named by NASA in October 1963. He completed two space flights, as pilot and spacewalker on the Gemini 11 mission and as command module pilot for Apollo 12.

To read a longer excerpt or to purchase Footprints in the Dust, visit http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Footprints-in-the-Dust,674567.aspx. Don't forget that our holiday book sale runs through Friday, December 17.



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