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USThe Story of 8 Unforgettable Words About Apollo 11

15:10  18 july  2019
15:10  18 july  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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The Story of 8 Unforgettable Words About Apollo 11
The Story of 8 Unforgettable Words About Apollo 11
The Story of 8 Unforgettable Words About Apollo 11
The Story of 8 Unforgettable Words About Apollo 11

[Read all Times reporting on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. | Sign up for the weekly Science Times email.]

John Noble Wilford knew that he was writing one of the most important stories of the century: The first human landing on another world. His article — for the front page of The New York Times on July 21, 1969, needed to begin with a sentence that conveyed the immensity of the moment. And so, after the launch on July 16, but before the landing, he spent a sleepless night trying to come up with an opening sentence, known in the journalism business as a lede:

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It is deceptively simple. It has heft. As he recalled in a recent interview: “That word, the ‘moon.’ It was the code word for inaccessible, unreachable.”

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This opening sentence, he said, put the amazing shift in humanity’s perception of the moon into terms of everyday life that any reader could relate to: “Not only have we reached it, but we walked on it!”

We all walk. It is, literally, a pedestrian thing. But this is walking made glorious: “Landed. And walked. On the moon.”

This is the story behind that story, which even today can wow a reader with the excitement of the moment: how it was reported and how Mr. Wilford — a giant of science writing and a two-timePulitzer Prize winner — turned a technically challenging human achievement into a narrative suffused with drama, felicitous language and even humor.

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The lede — the word is an artifact of the days of Linotype machines, and is used to distinguish the leading sentence of an article from the metal used in those days to form type — was also un-Timesian, especially in 1969. Mr. Wilford had been hired away from Time magazine in 1965 to take on the space beat.

The editor who hired him, Harrison Salisbury, told him that The Times did not “want someone to write a science story or a flight story or an engineering story.” He recalls Mr. Salisbury saying that the moon landing should be “a story of a big adventure.”

Mr. Salisbury was part of a faction of editors who were looking to “put some life into The Times,” Mr. Wilford recalled. But the newsroom was also still filled with “old-fashioned shirt-sleeve editors who went by the old book.”

So Mr. Wilford was not just worried about the first eight words of the article. He was also concerned about whether the old guard would require him to come up with something more stuffy and clunky.

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Eight years and billions of dollars later, Apollo 11 launched to fulfill Kennedy’s challenge. The sources selected here draw extensively on the words of the astronauts and have special features such as illustrative diagrams This book tells the story of Apollo 11 from launch through the moonwalk.

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“I was deathly afraid they were going to want me to do some kind of old-fashioned, ‘who what when and where’ lede, and I did not want that,” he said.

Another thing he did not want was “to have ‘historic’ in the lede,” he said. “It’s a lame way to say something is important.”

Mr. Wilford called his editor at the time in New York, Henry Lieberman, to clear the way for the unconventional line, with its ring of authority, of history, of a new age in human activity. “I told him what I wanted to do and why, and I said, ‘Do you think that’s going to be all right?’”

He said Mr. Lieberman replied, “Well, I’ll run that by the editors.”

“I guess that he did, I never heard anymore,” Mr. Wilford added. “I took nothing as a positive answer.”

He then went on to the kind of stylistic flourishes he has always been known for, as in his segue into one of Neil Armstrong’s immortal quotes:

Mr. Wilford reported on the launch in Florida, arriving days before with other Times reporters, all working in a rusty trailer that the newspaper maintained at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

He wrote three versions of the article that night for successive editions of The Times. By deadline of the first edition, the astronauts had landed but not exited the lunar module; by the third edition, two astronauts’ boots had touched the gritty soil of the moon. There was no email; to get his article to New York, Mr. Wilford banged it out on a typewriter and then read each word over the phone, making small changes on the fly as he read, to the “recording room,” where transcriptionists quickly typed up pages and passed them to editors.

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The Apollo 11 was the first manned mission that successfully landed on the moon. Below you will find more of a brief history of the crew and mission of Apollo 11 . The place of landing was called Tranquility Base. Armstrong’s first words after landing were: “Houston, Tranquility Base here.

Left - Liftoff of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission as the 363 ft. tall space vehicle is launched from Kennedy Space Center at 9:37 a.m. Mid - View from the launch tower of Magnificent view of Earth, showing Africa, Europe and Asia taken by the Apollo 11 crew about 98,000 nautical miles from Earth.

But after writing up the launch in Florida, there was the problem of how to cover the transition of management of the spacecraft to mission control in Houston. For earlier launches, Mr. Wilford often ended up on a late-night flight. This launch was different. So the publisher of The Times, Arthur O. Sulzberger, “let us use his private jet.” After meeting the newspaper’s deadlines, they traveled speedily and in luxury to Houston.

In Houston, the setup for reporters was different, but Mr. Wilford still had his desk, his background materials and his yellow pad with notes about what to expect from the mission — elements of the day-by-day flight plan that he could track as things went along.

His preparation for this reporting was extensive; he had even “flown” a simulator of the lunar lander to get a feel for what Armstrong was up against in piloting the spidery craft. Mr. Wilford repeatedly crashed the vehicle.

Mr. Wilford’s storytelling switched back and forth in time between the landing and the moon walk, to a congratulatory phone call from President Richard M. Nixon, then back to the details of stepping down to the surface. Then he deftly transitioned to a stirring paean to exploration:

“I started using ‘spacefaring’ even before the lunar landing,” Mr. Wilford said; he was drawn to the word’s historical echoes. “Seafaring, spacefaring — it’s part of the same thrust.”

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On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 , at the suggestion of Christine Laitin

APOLLO 11 is a ground-breaking new show with an original story performed by a full cast and presented in the spectacular LUNAR DOME with 40K This truly immersive experience takes you from the thrill of the countdown to the enormous Saturn V rocket launch and on an unforgettable journey

The structure of the article was determined in part by an editorial requirement to get the details of the landing and first steps on the moon, and the call from Mr. Nixon, “before the jump” — that is, within the part of the article that can be read on the front page. And he found space for flashes of dry humor, as well:

And the astronauts’ banter:

At mission control’s press area, Mr. Wilford wore earphones to hear the public affairs officer’s commentary, and watched closed-circuit television to see what the spaceship’s cameras were showing.

He kept his ears attuned to whenever anything fresh and amusing occurred, such as that exchange between Armstrong and Michael Collins.

“If you hear a particularly good quote, if you have anything that helps to give some narrative connection to events, you make a quick, scribbly note that no one but me could decipher,” he said. “I didn’t tape the air-to-ground, and you didn’t usually get a transcript of air-to-ground until several hours later.”

The most dramatic element of the landing — the need to fly farther than planned to find a safer landing place — was overshadowed at the time, Mr. Wilford recalled, by a series of alarms from the lander’s computers that mission controllers safely disregarded. The search for a landing spot was described in detail at a briefing later in the evening, and he worked it into the article’s chronology of events.

Throughout the piece, Mr. Wilford alternated between lyrical passages and those rich in scientific information and data, framed in ways that could grip the reader. These lines about Armstrong’s heartbeat speak volumes:

Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the “Freakonomics” book series, has called this “one of the most elegant little uses of data I can recall seeing in a news article,” adding, “Someday I would like to write two sentences as good as those.”

Mr. Dubner, join the crowd.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Wilford returned to Mr. Collins, still orbiting the moon as Mr. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the surface.

Mr. Wilford recalled that the return to Mr. Collins was an attempt to bring some balance to the distribution of glory, an act of empathy for a man as alone as any human has ever been.

“I still think of what Collins must have been thinking,” he said. “He’s up there in orbit. And Armstrong and Aldrin are landing on the moon, walking on the moon, and you think if something happens that they can’t come back, he has no choice. He can’t rescue them. He has to make the flight back on his own. That would have been the hardest thing in the world, I think.”

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