Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years later.Life magazine. Where most coverage of the time bowed before the force of history, Mailer rebelled with crude, melancholy, and visceral language. Below, his account of watching the Apollo 11 mission blast off.
The voice of the public affairs officer came out of the loudspeaker mounted on a speaker’s platform on the grass in front of the grandstand.
This is Apollo-Saturn Launch Control. T minus 61 minutes and counting—T minus 61 minutes on the Apollo 11 countdown, and all elements are GO at this time. Astronaut Neil Armstrong has just completed a series of checks on that big Service Propulsion System engine that sits below him in the stack. We want to assure ourselves before lift-off that that engine can respond to commands from inside the spacecraft. As Neil Armstrong moved his rotational hand controller we assured ourselves that the engine did respond by swiveling or gimbaling.
The voice was clear only if one forced oneself to listen to it. He tried to picture the scene in the Launch Control Center with hundreds of men scanning hundreds of consoles and computers, but there was not a real interest. He found himself going for a walk along the grass. Between the grandstand and the lagoon was a field about the size of a Little League baseball park and the photographers had all set themselves up at the edge of the water, their cameras with telephoto lenses set on tripods so that they looked from behind like a whole command of Army surveyors taking a lesson in their instrument. And the object on which they were focused, Apollo-Saturn, looked gray and indistinct across the air waves of heat shimmering off the lagoon.
. . . all is still GO as we monitor our status for it. Two minutes 10 seconds and counting. The target for the Apollo 11 astronauts, the moon. At lift-off we’ll be at a distance of 218,096 miles away. Just passed the two-minute mark in the countdown. T minus 1 minute 54 seconds and counting. Our status board indicates that the oxidizer tanks in the second and third stages now have pressurized. We continue to build up pressure in all three stages here at the last minute to prepare for lift-off. T minus 1 minute 35 seconds on the Apollo mission, the flight that will land the first man on the moon. All indications coming in to the Control Center at this time indicate we are GO. One minute 25 seconds and counting. Our status board indicates the third stage completely pressurized. Eighty-second mark has now been passed. We’ll go on full internal power at the 50-second mark in the countdown. Guidance system goes on internal at 17 seconds leading up to the ignition sequence at 8.9 seconds. We’re approaching the sixty-second mark on the Apollo 11 mission. T minus 60 seconds and counting. We have passed T minus 60. Fifty-five seconds and counting. Neil Armstrong just reported back, “It’s been a real smooth countdown.” We have passed the 50-second mark. Forty seconds away from the Apollo 11 lift-off. All the second-stage tanks now pressurized. Thirty-five seconds and counting. We are still GO with Apollo 11. Thirty seconds and counting. Astronauts reported, “Feels good.” T minus 25 seconds. Twenty seconds and counting. T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal, 12, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero, all engines running, LIFT-OFF. We have a lift-off, 32 minutes past the hour. Lift-off on Apollo 11.
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