Photos from the Vault

Huge flood, massive oil spill, Apollo 11 moon landing: Why 1969 was ‘epic’ on Central Coast

Californians are often laid back about time. What is the big deal about being 20 minutes late? It won’t cost you a place in the history books.

Unless you are the second man to walk on the moon. What was his name?

To be fair, there was no debate in the lunar lander over who would go first. NASA selected Neil Armstrong for the honor in April 1969, about three months before he set foot on the surface of the moon.

The second man to walk on the moon has what could be the best-ever astronaut nickname, Buzz.

My guess is Pixar had Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin in mind when they created Buzz Lightyear, the smug space cadet in the “Toy Story” movies.

Wikipedia says Aldrin’s nickname came from his sister.

Take the information with a grain of salt. The reader-edited encyclopedia also once said Aldrin died a day before the astronaut, now 89, appeared at the White House with then-President Barack Obama in 2009 along with the other Apollo 11 astronauts.

The July 20, 1969, moon landing was not an easy one. The Sea of Tranquility was covered with large boulders that could fatally demolish the lunar lander.

The computer had overloaded and was issuing warnings prompting Armstrong to land manually after clearance from Mission Control.

The allotted landing fuel was below 6% when the lunar module came to rest in a cloud of moon dust.

Armstrong would be the first to walk on the moon, but Aldrin also set a record. A devout Presbyterian, Aldrin had communion on the moon from a kit prepared by his pastor — becoming the first person to celebrate a religious sacrament on the lunar surface.

Michael Collins had the loneliest job in the universe, orbiting the moon solo in the command module while Armstrong and Aldrin had their images beamed all over the Earth, bounding on the lower gravity surface of the moon.

My family watched the moon landing, and, later humankind’s first steps on the moon on a black-and-white television.

Then we went outside to look up at the moon in the night sky over Riverside. We used binoculars to gaze up at the Earth’s natural satellite with new curiosity and wonder.

For its coverage of the moon landing, the then Telegram-Tribune made the odd choice of printing a simulation photo as the lead on the front page. It was sharper than the historic but fuzzy low-resolution television images transmitted from the moon at deadline.

Conspiracy theorists like to point to inconsistencies such as this to make the false claim that the moon landing never happened.

A year of epic news

1969 was a year of epic stories on the Central Coast and elsewhere.

The record 100-year flood hit San Luis County in January.

Lopez Lake filled that year, a process that was expected to take several years.

Also that winter, Union Oil was responsible for a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. That, in combination with the Cuyahoga River catching fire in Cleveland, galvanized the environmental movement and lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Beatles released the albums “Yellow Submarine” and “Abbey Road” in 1969. News of the band’s breakup would follow the next year.

One of the songs the Beatles recorded, “Act Naturally,” was written by Buck Owens. He was the first major performer to play the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, and his 1969 show there paved the way for future concerts.

Also in 1969, American troop levels in Vietnam hit their peak at 543,400. And U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was charged with leaving the scene of the accident in Chappaquiddick Island, Massachussetts, that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne.

The year was filled with turbulent and tragic stories that still fuel the culture wars.

The moon landing was one of the few stories able to transcend our earthly tribulations.

Editor’s note: This story was rewritten from a previous Photos From the Vault column published in 2010.

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