This Week Then: Looking Back on the Moon Landing

Plus: Washington's first automobile
| Updated: July 19, 2019

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Walking on the Moon

Fifty years ago this week, on July 20, 1969, the world looked on in amazement as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. In Washington, Boeing workers took pride in helping the astronauts achieve this "giant leap for mankind." When Apollo 11 lifted off from Cape Kennedy four days earlier, the Boeing-built S-1C first stage booster of the Saturn V launch vehicle rocketed it skyward. NASA also hired Boeing to coordinate Technical Integration and Evaluation of all Apollo systems.

Six years earlier, NASA was the second-largest exhibitor at the Seattle World's Fair, and its $2 million exhibit was the organization's first large-scale attempt to tell the story of the United States space program. When John Glenn visited the fair he was joined by eight other test pilots, all of whom spoke at a NASA conference where they answered questions about space travel. Most of the audience was focused on Glenn, who recently became the first human to orbit the earth, and barely noticed the other pilots, one of whom was Armstrong.

Pete Conrad was one of the other test pilots at the conference, and he went on to command the Apollo 12 mission in November 1969. When Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the moon's surface, Seattle native Dick Gordon orbited above them. Meanwhile, Boeing was working on a new NASA contract for a motorized "moon buggy" needed for future missions. The Boeing-made Lunar Rover was completed in 1971, and assisted astronauts during the final three Apollo moon landings.

Messages from Space

This week marks the anniversary of another space-age event in which the 1962 World's Fair played a significant role. On July 23, 1962, the Telstar 1 satellite relayed the first live televised images between Europe and the United States, heralding a new age of electronic communication. Viewers in Europe gazed in fascination at black-and-white, somewhat grainy views of America, including the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and a 90-second live broadcast from the Century 21 fairgrounds. The Space Needle took center stage, followed by glimpses of Japanese Bon Odori, Spanish Flamenco, and Hawaiian Hula dancers, as well as a boy enjoying a Belgian waffle.

Some fairgoers had already gotten a glimpse of the future soon after Telstar's launch two weeks earlier. Once the communications satellite was in orbit, it relayed one of the first long-distance telephone calls of the satellite age, between Senator Warren Magnuson in Washington, D.C., and Governor Albert Rosellini and Fair general manager Ewen Dingwall atop the Space Needle. The historic phone call was broadcast over the fair's public address system, so everyone could listen in.


Seward's Name

On July 21 and 22, 1869, former Secretary of State William Seward toured Puget Sound on his way to Alaska, and spoke out on the development of Washington Territory. Two years earlier, while in office, Seward had fought for the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Decades later, the discovery of gold in Alaska proved such a boon to Seattle that the grateful city memorialized Seward with a statue, a school, a park, and a neighborhood.

Up in Flame

On July 18, 1900, a fire destroyed half of the business district of downtown Pomeroy, and on July 24, 1924, a fire devastated Twisp. On July 18, 1959, the abandoned Wheeler-Osgood Company mill in Tacoma burned to the ground, and on July 24, 1994, the Tyee Creek Fire began north of Wenatchee, and burned 135,000 acres over 33 days.

When Autos Came

On July 23, 1900, Washington welcomed its first automobile when Ralph Hopkins, the owner of a Woods Electric, arrived in Seattle after driving his vehicle west from Chicago to San Francisco and then north (with lifts from trains helping out here and there). By 1904, there were enough cars in Washington to warrant creation of the state's first Auto Club and establishment of the original State Highway Board the following year.

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