Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To read more, visit timesfreepress.com/150years.
Richard "Dick" Scobee was flying a cargo plane home from Japan when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon at 10:56 p.m. on July 20, 1969. His wife, June, was watching the "one small step for man" with her 5- and 8-year-old children in Charleston, South Carolina.
Scobee, who would lose his life as commander of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, arrived home after 3 a.m. on July 21. His children were waiting.
"Daddy, it's not cheese," he heard. "There really was a man on the moon."
Both the Chattanooga Times (10 cents, 28 pages) and the Chattanooga News-Free Press (10 cents, 28 pages) carried the Apollo 11 mission from its launch on July 16, 1969, to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
The morning Times had the newsbreak on the story since it happened late Sunday night. Its readers woke up to a three-line headline stripped across all eight columns of the front page.
"MAN TAKES HISTORIC WALK ON MOON;
EXPLORE A BLEAK, DESOLATE WORLD;
DISASTER AVERTED ON LANDING"
The Times carried the news story to the left of a four-column Associated Press picture showing the two American astronauts planting the American flag on the moon. At the picture's left was a transcript of Armstrong's conversation with mission control about why he averted the intended landing site moments before touchdown.
The Times' story was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Noble Wilford of the New York Times. His often-quoted lead on the story simply said:
"HOUSTON — Man landed and walked on the moon Sunday."
Despite the hour, nine of the 10 stories on the front page were related to the moon landing. The only exception was a report from Massachusetts about the possibility that Sen. Edward Kennedy might face charges following the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island the Friday before.
By the time the afternoon News-Free Press hit the streets in Chattanooga, the lunar module carrying Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin had lifted off from the moon's surface and was preparing to dock with Commander Michael Collins and the command module.
"MOON WALKERS START HOME" was the banner headline blown up as large as possible to stretch across the entire front page. The News-Free Press had access to the early video of the moon landing, something the morning paper did not. Editors took advantage by clipping four pictures from the footage and placing two pictures on top of two more with a single story running down the right column of the paper.
One showed the planting of the flag and one used an arrow to pinpoint the moment Armstrong's foot touched the moon. Another showed Aldrin deploying a solar wind experiment and the final one showed the astronauts placing the plaque on the lunar surface that read, ""Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
The News-Free Press carried seven more moon-related stories on its front page and two more full pages inside. Two local stories made the front page. One was a breaking story about 400 members of the Allied Industrial Workers Union Local 289 striking against the Cavalier Corp., which started making vending drinks in Chattanooga during the depression.
Martin Ochs, then editor of the Times' editorial page, said on the day man walked on the moon, "After years of Soviet boasting about the launching power of a socialist system, America's free economy — with its imperfections and its occasional failures — set itself to this vast purpose and has proved itself with formidable clarity."
The News-Free Press' Lee Anderson said, "it is a proud day for all Americans to be part of this country in its latest triumph. It is a day for us to stand in unity of satisfaction, in the constructive spirit which has characterized the program, in the relative humility that accompanies this success."
IF YOU GO
What: “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition”
› Where: Tennessee Aquarium Imax Theater, 201 Chestnut St.
› When: Daily though Sept. 5
› Admission: $11.95 adults; $9.95 children ages 3-12
› For more information: www.tnaqua.org
Dr. June Scobee-Rogers is best known as the face of the Challenger Learning Centers, including the Challenger STEM Center at UTC. She is consumed with teaching how they learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics — commonly known as STEM — from a simulated space flight inside mission control. As a lifelong educator, she carries the personal experiences of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died when Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.
She is also more than well-versed in the "moonwalkers," men she met in 1978 when her first husband was selected as an astronaut for the shuttle series. She understands what landing on the moon meant at the time, what came out of space exploration in the 1960s and, more importantly to her, what it will mean for the future.
"All of that technology brought about a lot of what you can do on your cell phone," said Rogers, who lives with her second husband, Army Lt. Gen. Don Rodgers, in Chattanooga. "The space program in the '60s – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo – showed the nation, again, what we could do. If we can put a man on the moon, we can do anything.
"But it was more than that. When we looked at the Earth from the moon, it was like, 'Oh my gosh. That is our home and we have to take care of where we live.' Environmentalists started coming from everywhere."
Friday night, Rogers opened the monthlong run of "Apollo 11: First Steps Edition" at the IMAX 3D Theater. The 47-minute film designed for science centers and museum theaters is based on Todd Douglas Miller's documentary "Apollo 11." It features newly found 70-millimeter footage and 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Rogers said the film runs through July 20, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
Rogers, who authored a book about the Challenger tragedy and a series of adventure books for young readers, connects the dots from President John F. Kennedy's proclamation in May 1961 that the United States would be first to the moon through four decades of shuttle missions and to the stated goal of returning to the moon by 2024.
Pew Research shows that the importance of the moon landing has all but vanished for people 54 and under. The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, adults born between 1928 and 1964, rank the moon landing as a top-five historical event, while it disappears from the top five of all people born in 1965 and thereafter, according to a 2016 survey done by the Pew Research Center that lists each age group's top 12 historical events.
The Challenger explosion is No. 7 on the list of those in Generation X (ages 39-54). The landing on the moon does not appear in the top 12 historical events for Millennials and Generation Z (ages 38 and under).
Rogers understands, which is why she travels the country discussing the importance of space exploration.
"Most people don't realize that we spent more money in the decade of the '60s than we did in the four decades that followed," she said. "All of the shuttle missions and the space stations are paving the way to return to the moon and then to Mars. That's why STEM is so important. It wasn't just the two men who walked on the moon, it was the thousands of people behind the scenes. That's why what we do at the Challenger centers is so important."
There are 43 Challenger centers, around the world. The center at UTC opened in 1994, the 25th such center to open.
"Think about NASA and all the private and world partnerships that come together since we went to the moon," said Perry Storey, director of the Challenger STEM Center. "When we go back to the moon, we may be the leader, but we are going to bring everyone with us. Think about what we are going to see with today's technology."
Rogers is excited about the prospects of seeing another man, or woman, walk on the moon, but her passion for the future rests in a personal mission left to her by McAuliffe, the teacher.
"Two days after the [Challenger] accident, we were sitting at Johnson Space Center with President [Ronald] Reagan and Nancy Reagan," Rogers remembered, "and he gave a great speech and there was the missing man formation. I remember them squeezing my hand. I broke down crying thinking that NASA would continue the space program, but thought, 'Who will continue Christa's mission?' It gave me strength. I said to myself, 'I will continue Christa's mission.'"
Contact Davis Lundy at email@example.com.