Ground Control to David Bowie: You Really Made the Grade
On July 16, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins launched atop a Saturn V rocket toward the moon. The 8-day NASA mission captivated the planet as Armstrong and Aldrin explored the lunar surface on July 20, supported by Michael Collins who orbited overhead. 46 years after the first successful landing of the Apollo program, we've dug into the NASA archives to find some familiar and some not-so-familiar views of the Apollo 11 mission. All photos and captions can be found inNASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery
Neil Armstrong leads the way across Pad A, Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., during the Apollo 11 prelaunch countdown on July 16, 1969. Michael Collins follows behind.
The massive 363-feet tall Apollo 11 launched at 9:32 a.m. (EDT) on July 16, 1969, carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins into the history books.
This photo was taken from a door-mounted camera on a U.S. Air Force EC-135N aircraft shortly after launch. The Saturn V second and third stages separate from the spent first (S-1C) stage, which then dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, the first stage engines were retrieved from the ocean floor by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
Earth is captured through the Apollo astronauts' camera lens on the way to the moon.
Aldrin looks into the TV camera during the third broadcast from space on the way to the moon.
The Apollo 11 Command and Service Modules (CSM) are photographed from the Lunar Module (LM) in lunar orbit during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.
After descending from the lunar module after a successful landing on July 20, 1969, Armstrong makes a bootprint in the loose lunar regolith. The astronauts' bootprints remain untouched on the dusty surface to this day.
Aldrin descends the steps of the Lunar Module ladder as he prepares to walk on the moon.
Armstrong and Aldrin deploy the American flag outside the lunar module "Eagle" at Tranquility Base in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969.
Aldrin prepares to deploy experiments on the lunar surface next to the large lunar module, "Eagle."
Aldrin oversees the deployment of the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP), photographed by Armstrong during the crew extravehicular activity (EVA).
Collins photographs the returning lunar module with Armstrong and Aldrin inside. Soon after, the lunar module docked with the orbiting Command and Services Modules to begin the journey back to Earth.
Aldrin illustrates the gyroscope principle under zero-gravity conditions using a can of food in front of the TV cameras as the crew travel back to Earth from the moon.
The three Apollo 11 crew men await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the lunar landing mission, after a fiery reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), showing the flight controllers celebrating the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.
The Apollo 11 spacecraft Command Module and the Mobile Quarantine Facility are photographed aboard the USS Hornet.
Left to right: Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, in a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their wives.
Among real space explorers, few songs have resonated as powerfully as David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity,” the soulful ballad of a solitary fictional astronaut, Major Tom. Bowie, who died on Sunday from cancer, published the song as a single in July 1969 — the year and month of the first Apollo moon landing.
Bowie has said he was inspired to write the song after watching Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which came out a year earlier.
The song opens with Major Tom launching into space. Ground Control tells him “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on … Commencing countdown, engines on … Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”
Once in space, the accolades pour in.
“You’ve really made the grade,” Ground Control tells Major Tom. “The papers want to know whose shirts you wear.”
Then it’s time for work — a spacewalk — and Major Tom picks up the storyline:
“I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way.
And the stars look very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was so inspired by Bowie’s song that he made a music video of “Space Oddity” while he was aboard the International Space Station in 2013, catapulting the song back into the public eye.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust. Your brilliance inspired us all. Goodbye Starman,” Hadfield posted on Twitter on Monday.
NASA added, “And the stars look very different today. RIP David Bowie.”
Here’s a link to Bowie’s first television performance of “Space Oddity,” circa 1970. Love the pink bell-bottoms:
Chris Hadfield’s rendition of “Space Oddity”: