In 1961, John F. Kennedy made a speech to Congress declaring that America should commit "to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This seemed a tad overambitious, even when you factor in how much speed Kennedy was on at the time. The Soviets were popping into space every other week, but the American space program basically consisted of paying a really strong guy to huck empty beer cans at the sky in the hope that one of them hit Sputnik. An American hadn't even been into orbit, now they were suddenly supposed to go to the moon?
And yet, against all the odds, they did. In just eight years, NASA designed and built, almost from scratch, moon landers and rockets and space suits. Whole landscapes were leveled to build test sites and launch pads. Over 400,000 people were recruited to work on the program, which is more people than worked on the Pyramids, or the Great Wall. The moon itself was so mysterious that scientists genuinely worried that the entire lander might just sink straight into the moon dust like quicksand. Fortunately, the surface was solid enough to support Neil Armstrong's small step in July 1969. It was one of the greatest achievements in human history.
The moon landing captivated the entire world. Even on tiny boats in the middle of the ocean, they were glued to the radio and breaking out the champagne. The astronauts instantly became national heroes, which helped compensate for the brutal punishment of having to hold several conversations with Richard Nixon. Naturally, America's newspapers went berserk. The New York Times' headline was a series of all-caps F-bombs, while the Chicago Tribune published a special 40-page supplement that just contained the word "America!" typed over and over. The LA Times ran a front-page op-ed solemnly inviting Leonid Brezhnev to "suck our giant moon-hog," while the Miami Herald staff set fire to all their printing presses and simply walked into the sea, declaring that the age of man had surely peaked and ended.
At least, we assume that's what happened, but there's no need to Google any of those actual headlines, because the greatest coverage of the moon landing was unquestionably provided by the local newspaper in Neil Armstrong's tiny hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio. While the rest of the world was going nuts over the scale of the achievement, or the political and scientific implications, the Wapakoneta Daily News simply went with the adorably perfect "Neil Steps On The Moon."
You could invent time travel, collect history's greatest writers, force them to compete with a billion typewriting monkeys, and still not come up with a better headline, for Wapakoneta or America or the world. That's our boy, Neil. We sent him to the moon.
The paper also landed an interview with Armstrong's parents, who were appropriately proud, in a very sweet small-town Ohio way. Armstrong's mother expressed her hope that the Apollo crew were all getting enough sleep, since "I'm worried they may be cramped and uncomfortable in there," while his dad thought it was "real nice" of President Nixon to give the astronauts a call. Although it's Nixon we're talking about, so we have to assume there was an unrecorded portion of the conversation where he asked them to bury a couple boxes of evidence in a remote crater.
Meanwhile, the hometown newspapers of the other Apollo crew members were slightly less effusive. In Buzz Aldrin's hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, the Montclair Times only came out once a week, so locals had to wait until Thursday to read about "History's Biggest Splash." Which sounds like an ad for a discount water park, but actually refers to the crew landing back in the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, Michael Collins moved around a lot as a kid and was actually born in Rome, Italy, where all the newspapers presumably led with some variant of "Bikini-Clad Senator Stabs Pope In Moped Dispute."
But we still have the Wapakoneta Daily News, who saw their local boy become the first man to set foot on another heavenly body and thought "that's nice, he was always a sweet kid." It's the greatest honor anyone could hope for.
Top image: NASA