Like millions of other Americans, former astronaut Frank Borman of Apollo 8 and Gemini 7 fame was glued to the television screen on July 20, 1969, as he watched the momentous moon landing of Apollo 11 — but in his case, he was watching it with then-President Richard M. Nixon in the White House.
While Borman’s colleague Neil Armstrong was taking mankind’s first steps on the moon, Borman was watching the big event with the commander-in-chief.
“I was assigned by NASA to be the liaison with the White House,” Borman explained in a Fox News interview this week. “I was watching on TV with President Nixon.”
The astronaut speculated that the environment at the White House that night was likely no different from that of the millions of American homes with their TVs switched on and families eagerly watching around the sets.
“Everyone was hoping for the best,” he said.
In his interview, Borman recounted Nixon’s demeanor as he watched the events unfold, saying he was “very excited and very happy … He was happy on two fronts — one for his presidency and one for the crew,” Borman told Fox News.
December 21 is the 50th anniversary, by the way, of the Apollo 8 mission, of which Borman was commander.
The NASA astronaut and former Air Force pilot also witnessed what Nixon described as the White House’s most historic phone call.
Borman watched as the president, from the Oval Office, spoke to the astronauts as they took their firsts steps on the moon in 1969.
The telephone Nixon used is now located at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.
Additionally, in what will likely come as a shock to many, Borman also took part in developing a speech that would be ready to deliver on the chance that — for whatever reason — Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong could not leave the moon after that historic and dangerous mission in July of 1969.
The well-known William Safire wrote the speech.
And “I was involved in, shall we say, editing it,” Borman told Fox News.
Jim Lovell, a fellow astronaut of Apollo 8 — and the commander of the unsuccessful Apollo 13 mission — was Armstrong’s backup for the mission and also spoke to Fox News about it.
“I was in the launch control center during the flight,” he told the outlet.
He spoke of a particularly tense moment in which the craft was running low on fuel prior to landing.
“Neil [Armstrong] did a very good job — we thought that he was nearly out of gas when he landed,” said Lovell.
He noted the great celebration and merriment upon the successful landing of the lunar module.
“The final celebration was the collection of the crew when they were picked up from the water by the Navy.”
Though the Command Center, Oval Office, and the entire country rejoiced upon the moon landing, Mission Control could not take its final sigh of relief until the craft landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.
Four days after Armstrong’s monumental first steps, he, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins transitioned from the NASA spacecraft to a Navy ship.
“The final celebration was the collection of the crew when they were picked up from the water by the Navy,” said Lovell.
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