We’re quickly closing in on the 50th anniversary of The Landing of the Eagle, as the Apollo 11 mission brought Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin safely to the surface of the Moon and back. Surely the media coverage of this golden anniversary is difficult to escape, and that’s as it should be — those of us who were alive to follow the voyage of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins (who remained in orbit, piloting the Command Module Columbia as his fellow astronauts trod the Lunar surface) remember it as one of those rare moments when much of the entire planet was united to celebrate an amazing accomplishment.
Being born in mid-July, I was nine years old when Apollo 11 blasted off for its date with destiny, but ten years old when Armstrong made his “one small step for a man.” Headlines across the country mirrored this one, from the Boston Globe, as Columbia roared skyward from Kennedy Space Center atop a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969:
The mission was reported as proceeding smoothly, as this L.A. Times headline from the next day shows:
America was poised to win the “space race” that began with the launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957, but the competing Soviet Union wasn’t going down without a fight. What is easy to forget is that they had their own unmanned probe, Luna 15, headed toward the Moon concurrent with the Apollo 11 mission. America might be the first to get a man to the Moon, but the Soviets planned to be the first to bring back samples from the surface of Earth’s satellite for scientific study.
Despite the fervor of the space race, the 1960s were a more genteel time than our own, and the race to the Moon was conducted in a gentlemanly manner — the Soviets provided NASA with an advance copy of Luna 15’s flight plan to allow both sides to insure there would be no collision between Luna 15 and Columbia.
On the comics pages, meanwhile, it was largely business as usual. Strips were prepared so far in advance of actual publication dates that trying to tie into Apollo 11 would have been a high-risk venture — the mission was sure to be historic, but no cartoonist’s crystal ball was good enough to predict whether it would be for triumphal or tragic reasons. So it is that the newspaper comics were concerned with more earthbound matters — as shown below in this mini-fantasy comics page from July 19, 1969, The Wizard of Id was poking fun at the “sit-ins,” “peace-ins”, and “love-ins” of the period — Li’l Abner was building suspense around Al Capp’s fictional version of then-superstar lawyer F. Lee Bailey — and as was so often the case, Juliet Jones and Bob Montana’s Archie dealt with the hormonal relationships between young men and young women. Readers of our Little Orphan Annie books may notice something different about the July 19th strip included here, compared to all the strips we have reprinted in the series to date. Keep watching this space as we continue to look at Apollo 11’s historic mission to see what that difference is …