I was 14 years old, sitting up late with my family in the kitchen, sometime after midnight in Kentucky, waiting. I could feel the entire world quietly listening to the tiny beeps of the astronauts’ radios.
But with all of that attention on the first step, there’s one thing that’s never mentioned about the last moments before Armstrong set the LEM down on the surface hours earlier: they had reached the limit of fuel for their return trip.
There was a palpable intensity between the beeps of the astronauts’ voices in the cockpit during the landing. You could hear Buzz say, “Red light!” in the dialog, reminding Neil that the landing fuel was exhausted and it was now or never. Armstrong was not satisfied with the chosen site and wanted to fly over a large boulder for a better position. He stretched the fuel right to the last second…and beyond! He took that risk.
I find it fascinating that for all of the precision involved in getting there, in the last moments before Man landed on the moon, the outcome was not determined by technology and science, but by intuition and guts. It still came down to a rudder, a stick, and a pilot.
Gregory Manchess is an American artist and illustrator. His art has highlighted covers for Time, National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly, and the Major League Baseball World Series Program; spreads for Playboy, Omni, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Smithsonian; and countless advertising campaigns and book covers.