Jul 20 2009 5:20pm

On July 20th, Gregory Manchess

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.

This article is part of Moon Landing Day: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Charlie Athanas
1. Charlie Athanas
I cannot recommend "Moon Dust" by Andrew Smith and "Riding Rockets" by astronaut, Mike Mullane, strongly enough for tremendous reads that put you there. Both of these non-fiction books give the essence of what it is like to be an astronaut and to breaks the bonds of Earth's gravity.
Charlie Athanas
2. Cort Skinner
Great observation, Gregory! Even a bit of the moon landing was seat-of-the-pants flying!
Gregory Manchess
3. GregManchess
I got the one comment incorrect. Sounds like Buzz says, "Light's on!" as the reminder. Ah, memory.

There's another curious thing that happened that night. I was riveted to the screen as Neil was about to step out of the LEM. He appeared on the ramp...upside down. No one ever mentions that when Armstrong started down that ladder, the camera set up to shoot the historic descent was mistakenly mounted upside down on the lander itself. Once the broadcasters corrected this, and Cronkite chuckled, we finished watching him plant that first step.

But I also remember going outside to look at the moon, thinking that I just might be able to see them. For some odd reason, it felt better.
Charlie Athanas
4. KKincaid
Gregory Manchess is an American artist and illustrator AND writer.

Succinct homage to one of the most memorable moments of my childhood. Good reading.

And I thought Buzz was heard to say, "Are we there yet?".
Charlie Athanas
5. Darth maul
Welcome to the Dark Side!!!
Charlie Athanas
6. Darth Vader
What is thy bidding!!!

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