‘A Giant Leap for Mankind’ – Oshawa Times and the Moon Landing

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With twelve words, Astronaut Neil Armstrong left his mark on 20th century history: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon, followed minutes later by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.  The crew of the Apollo 11 mission was rounded out by pilot Michael Collins, who remained in lunar orbit during the moon landing.

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Oshawa Times, 21 July 1969

The eight day mission of the Apollo crew was many years in the making.  The ‘Space Race’ competition between the United States and the USSR began in the 1950s, ramped up with John F. Kennedy’s promise in 1961 to put an American on the moon by the end of that decade, and was essentially won with the landing of Apollo 11.  The event was watched live by millions, the footage has been played and replayed countless times, and the events of this and other space missions have been dramatized through the years.  The lunar landing captivated those in 1969 and continues to inspire today.

The people of Oshawa were naturally caught up in the events leading up to the launch, and the Oshawa Times from that week show how it was being reported.  On July 14, along with an article about how the astronauts were feeling ahead of the mission, the Times reported how the mission was to be televised and what viewers could expect.  “More people throughout the world are expected to watch the Apollo 11 moon flight on television than any previous single event,” the Times stated.  “Virtually every country – including some Communist nations – has planned television, radio, and newspaper coverage of the event, and Venezuela has declared a public holiday because of the lunar landing’s ‘great importance for the history of mankind.’”  The article further warned viewers not to expect high quality images from when Armstrong first steps on the surface.  Another article which appeared later in that edition talked about the job for the medical doctor who was to monitor the health of the astronauts before, during, and after the mission, which included a 21 day quarantine after returning to earth, in case of ‘space germs.’

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Oshawa Times, 15 July 1969

On July 15, the Times reprinted a message to the astronauts sent by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, reading “Man has reached out and touched the tranquil moon.  Puisse ce haut fait permattre a l’homme de redecouvrir la terre et d’y trouver la paix (May this great feat permit man to rediscover the earth and to find peace there).”

“An aura of Buck Rogers surrounds the big news story of the week – probably the biggest news story of the century,” the Times reported in their editorial on July 15. “Never before have men set out on a more hazardous or complex mission… As we marvel at the courage and skill of the astronauts the wish can only be God speed and a safe return.”

When Apollo 11 launched on the morning of Wednesday, July 16, it dominated the front page of the Oshawa Times including one picture of the rocket taking off and one of Neil Armstrong.  An article also featured on the front page highlights a Canadian connection to the mission, “Apollo Astronauts to Land with Made-In Quebec Legs.”  Heroux Machine Shops of Longueuil, Quebec manufactured the landing gear for the lunar module.  Further in the paper was an amusing addition of tips for the astronauts from Edmonton Grade 4 students.  Anecdotes included: “If I go to the moon I would surely bring my records because there is a lot of dancing on the moon because there is no gravity,” and “I would bring a flag of Canada. And make a flag of the moon. And the designs will be a moon and me sitting on it. The moon would be yellow. I would be a stick lady and the sides would be black.”

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Oshawa Times, 16 July 1969

On July 18, a small article ran on the front page under the headline “62 Would Go on Moon Trip,” and the article reads as follows:

Montreal (CP) – Air Canada is accepting reservations for its first flight to the moon.

Sixty-two have been made so far, a spokesman said Thursday.

No price is quoted and no down payment requested but the airline is serious about the matter, the spokesman said.

All you have to do is make a reservation for the flight and let Air Canada know where you can be reached.  If you are high enough on the reservations list, the airline will contact you when the details of the inaugural moon flight are known to find out whether you still want to go at the price you will have to pay.

With 20/20 hindsight, we know that the mission was successful, but on July 18, the outcome of Apollo 11 was still unfolding; “Death Waits if Astronauts Become Marooned,” a headline on page 3, bleakly spelled out the worst case scenario for the mission.  “Death awaits the Apollo astronauts of they become marooned on the moon – and they know it for theses is no rescue vehicle that could save them.”

In that same edition, many notable Oshawa citizens shared their thoughts on the moon landing.  MPP Clifford Pilkey said “The tremendous technical repercussions should reflect a better life for all people; I hope that this much scientific know-how can be generated to attack problems in other areas too.”  A 97-year-old Col R.S. McLaughlin, although “keenly interested in the whole thing” didn’t think he should stay up after 2am to watch the landing happen live. Ald. Ruth Bestwick said, “I’m not against the moon landing, but I think the money could be put to better use,” while fellow Ald. Gordon Attersley said “The walk will prove to man that nothing is impossible.  Many of us place too many limitations on ourselves.”

The landmark event took place in the early hours of Sunday, July 20; the Oshawa Times did not put out a paper on Sundays in 1969, so the following day was filled with coverage of the landing.  In fact, the Times suggested its readers “file this copy of The Oshawa Times for reference in the years to come… Really, what else is in news today?”  They included photos from the surface of the moon, the entire transcript of the landing, reactions of Canadians to the event, local reactions, and more.

Said Mayor Hayward Murdoch: “Fantastic. Thrilling. The human aspect as well as the technological evolution that has gone on to bring this about is almost beyond the average person’s comprehension. The next big thrill is to see them get off there today.”

Finally, Oshawa was one of countless communities who sent congratulations to Washington.  Mayor Murdoch sent a telegram to President Richard Nixon, the text of which was printed in the Times on July 22. “We respectfully ask that you accept our congratulations for the tremendous human and technical accomplishments of Mr. Neil Armstrong, Col. Edwin Aldrin and Col. Michael Collins and their back-up crew.  Their contribution to world history has thrilled many thousands and we request you convey our gratitude for a job well done and a safe and speedy return home.”

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Oshawa Times, 25 July 1969