On 20 July 1969 the Apollo 11 spaceflight became the first in history to land humans on the surface of the moon. The mission was the peak of the space race that began in the 1950s between Cold War rivals the United States and the Soviet Union.
Pan American Airways accepted the first ‘reservation’ for future flights to the moon in 1964 from Austrian journalist Gerhard Pistor. Almost 100,000 people around the world joined the Pan Am waiting list called ‘First Moon Flights Club’. Although no deposits were required, tickets were strictly non-transferable, and details were scant. Would-be passengers receiving their tickets in the mail were advised that there was no date as-yet, and fares ‘may be out of this world’.
After travelling for 76 hours and 240,000 miles from Earth to the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong took his historic step for mankind on 21 July 1969. With Buzz Aldrin joining him 19 minutes later, the astronauts spent just over two hours walking on the moon, collecting samples and data while pilot Michael Collins flew the command module Columbia in lunar orbit. They returned to Earth after more than eight days in space, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July 1969.
The dramatic re-entry of Apollo 11 into the Earth’s atmosphere was witnessed by 82 passengers and crew travelling on Qantas Flight 596 over the mid Pacific Ocean. Their bird’s eye view lasted 3 minutes and 46 seconds, with Captain Frank A. Brown providing detailed commentary that was relayed to radio stations around Australia. Passengers also dined from the special lunar-themed menu and were presented with a commemorative certificate bearing a reproduction of the plaque placed on the moon.
Not long after returning to Earth, the three astronauts embarked on a 37-day ‘Giant Leap’ world tour spanning 24 countries. The Apollo 11 astronauts made a brief 2-hour stop in Perth before visiting Sydney on 1 November 1969. Greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Gorton, the astronauts managed to fit in a news conference, civic reception, motorcade, luncheon and film narration at the Wentworth Hotel, before departing for Guam on 2 November.
An estimated 600 million people around the globe (20 per cent of the world’s population at the time) watched or listened to the lunar landing broadcast. It was covered extensively by media and splashed across the pages of newspapers and magazines.
The Library holds a range of material relating to the Apollo 11 mission, reflecting Australia's excitement and fascination in the space race as it happened.
The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald’s 22 July 1969 issue signed by all three Apollo 11 astronauts, as well as Pan Am’s tickets to the moon, and Qantas ephemera relating to the re-entry of Apollo 11 are currently on display in the Amaze Gallery.
Maria Savvidis, Curator, State Library of New South Wales