By Jim Buchanan


Fifty years ago this week, people in Jackson County joined people from around the country and the world to witness live one of the most breathtaking achievements of our species when American Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.

The Herald offered an editorial wishing the crew a safe journey, and followed up with a reaction story that described the sense of wonder here regarding the feat.

From the July 17, 1969 Herald:

“A shot that will go down in history books was fired Wednesday morning.

That was when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins blasted off for man’s first landing on the moon.

The timetable calls for the spaceship to reach lunar orbit three days after liftoff, on Saturday, July 19, then next Monday, July 21, make the historic footprint on the moon’s crust. Armstrong and Aldrin will use the lunar module as their elevator down from Apollo 11, which Collins will continue flying.

“The objective of our flight,” Armstrong explained, “is to take orbit about the moon, make a landing and return safely to earth. How well we’ll use what we learn in the future, only history will tell. On any flight, those things that are new are the most dangerous. In our case, it will be the descent to the surface, the landing, the lunar surface work and the liftoff from the moon.

Soon after Armstrong steps on the moon he’ll plant a 3x5 American flag on the surface, mounted atop an 8-foot staff, and wire so it will stand out and not droop.

This will not be a “claim” on moon real estate for the United Sates, as there have been internal agreements to forgo this; but could well be a symbol of America’s triumph in the initial phase of the space race.

Byproducts of the nation’s tremendous investment in the space program to date have been miniaturization, computer development, rocketry, communications and other fields as well as in the advancement of scientific knowledge. This coming week will provide the climax to the drama. All Americans will wish Apollo 11 and its three astronauts bon voyage and a safe return.”

The Herald followed up with a front-page story on July 24 describing local reaction to the moon shot headlined “A normal day in Sylva … but was it really?”

The story did a good job of capturing the pervasive sense of wonder that had settled across the county.

“Young and old and those in between in Jackson County shared in the exciting Apollo 11 moon voyage.

And in all the ages man has looked at the silvery moon, whether writing poetry or music about it or planting crops by it, so many have never looked so intensely together.

The time: 4:18 p.m. EDT Sunday, July 20, 1969. Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. landed on the Sea of Tranquility aboard Eagle while a third astronaut, Michael Collins, orbited the moon aboard the command ship Columbia.

The time: 10:56 p.m. EDT Sunday, July 20, 1969: Armstrong placed his foot on the lunar surface, followed by Aldrin.

At 1:54 p.m. Monday, July 21, moon’s first two humans departed for rendezvous with the command ship and scheduled splashdown in the Pacific today, bringing with them rocks and soil samples.

About noon on Sunday, many in Jackson County joined millions across the U.S. and throughout most of the world watching in comfort the unveiling of history on TV screens. As the day wore on into evening and night and morning of Monday, we were watching live telecasts of Armstrong placing his foot on the moon, of Armstrong and Aldrin doing their many chores on the rocky surface.

President Nixon declared Monday as a day of participation, and the post offices and Federal offices were closed. Governor Scott also declared Monday a holiday and state offices here and across North Carolina were closed. County officials at the courthouse were also closed as a part of the participation. Business in downtown Sylva appeared at a normal pace for a summer day.

In sidewalk talk, coffee break chats, phone calls, business greetings and on-the-job conversations the focus was on the great technical achievement and storied lunar journey.

As all agree on the wonderment of it all, neither the young, the old or those in between know what it may really mean in years to come.”

Apollo 11 was the first of six crewed U.S. landings on the moon, with the last occurring in 1972. The U.S. remains the only nation to have achieved the feat.

As to what the landing “may really mean,” simply put it changed our lives. The Apollo program saw advances in computer technologies that shaped the world we live in today. Cell phones, the internet, wireless technologies and home computers were born from the Apollo program.

But mainly, Apollo 11 changed the way we look at ourselves. It provided a sense of scale of where we stand in the universe, and a sense of how very precious the “little blue dot” we live on is when cast against the immenseness of that universe.