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50 Years ago July 1969

By Jim Ignasher

Newspaper accounts from July of 1969 indicated that there wasn’t much happening locally, but nationally all eyes were on the much anticipated launch of Apollo 11, and outer-space happenings in general.

Airman Gary H. Seward of Esmond completed Air Force basic training.

Airman 1/C Mark D. Sullivan of Greenville was serving in Vietnam.

S/Sgt. Peter E. Anthony of Greenville was serving with the Air Force’s 2187th Communication Squadron.

CW4 Louis Theroux was serving with the R. I. National Guard.

F. Russell Keach of Georgiaville was described in one newspaper as being a “one-man task force.” when it came to cleaning up the Greenville Cemetery on Smith Avenue.

A year earlier Keach’s uncle was buried there, and while at the service Keach noticed the dilapidated condition of the cemetery and decided to do something about it. He began fixing up the cemetery on his own time and at his own expense by mowing the grass and cutting back overgrown shrubbery, filling in sunken graves, and righting toppled headstones.

There were no cemetery maintenance regulations for Smithfield’s cemeteries in 1969, nor was there a cemetery commission, for all town cemeteries had begun as private lots, and it had been up to the families to maintain them.

On July 3, knowing that NASA’s Apollo 11 was scheduled for takeoff later in the month, the Soviet Union attempted to launch an unmanned N1 rocket to orbit the moon for a photographic mission. However, the rocket blew up during lift off in what became the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. Debris from the rocket was found up to six miles away.

On July 5, the crew of Apollo 11 announced at a press conference that they’d named the command module “Columbia”, and the lunar landing module, “Eagle”.

On July 11, singer and songwriter David Bowie released “Space Oddity”, a song about an astronaut named “Major Tom”.

It was also on July 11th that the Sprague Electric Company gave a 1.5 inch diameter silicon disc to NASA to be left on the moon. The disc contained messages of good will from leaders around the world.

On July 13 the Soviet Union launched another unmanned rocket aimed at the moon. The purpose was to land a robotic craft capable of retrieving small samples of moon rocks, and then returning to Earth before Apollo 11. Thus they would be the first nation to bring back pieces of the moon. But misfortune continued to plague their space program as the robot crashed on the lunar surface and was destroyed.

On July 16 the Apollo 11 spacecraft left for the moon.

In light of the recent Soviet failures, on July 18, President Richard Nixon was given a memo containing comments to deliver in the event the crew of the Apollo 11 mission met with tragedy. This memo, by the way, was never revealed to the public until thirty years afterwards.

On July 20, the Apollo 11 lunar module, nicknamed “Eagle” successfully landed on the moon. Mission commander, astronaut Neil Armstrong, uttered the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” Since that date, “The Eagle has landed” has become a popular phrase in American culture to denote a successful mission.

History has shown that the crew of Apollo 11 made it safely back to earth. NASA conducted five more manned moon missions, the last being Apollo 17, in 1972.

On July 31, the Mariner 6 space probe, launched by NASA in February of 1969, passed within 2,130 miles of the planet Mars while sending back the highest resolution photographs of the planet’s surface ever viewed by man.