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AirTalk Special Event: Apollo 11 — One Small Step, 50 Years Later

Picture taken on July 20, 1969 shows astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, walking on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera.
Picture taken on July 20, 1969 shows astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, walking on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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Fifty years ago on July 20, 1969, more than 600 million people worldwide tuned in to watch astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to set foot on the moon. 

Armstrong’s famous words as he took those first steps were no exaggeration; the moon landing was unquestionably a “giant leap for mankind.” That momentous day changed science, technology and culture in ways that are still being felt today.

Host Larry Mantle and a panel of guests discuss the impact of Apollo 11 on Southern California and commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the landing before a live audience at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum.

Full Video Broadcast

Panel Highlights

On what this anniversary means:

When I think about Apollo 11, I really think of what some people refer to as the "Apollo effect"...when the country announced its intention to put a man on the moon and return safely in 10 years, it really created a tremendous interest among the whole country but young people especially, and then the effect with that was that a lot of people switched career[s] and became interested in science, technology, engineering and math — STEM. And that really started the whole STEM movement...that's what I think most about.
John Casani, pioneering engineer for JPL, NASA

On the technical achievements:

It's probably one of the most complicated engineering feats of humanity...the complexity of being able to design something for an environment that you've never been to before and have it work the first time is just tremendous in terms of having to understand the physics behind everything that you're doing — whether it's from the design of the engines, to the navigation of the spacecraft, to what the environment was going to be for the human beings to be able to survive there for that time. So I actually can't think of a greater engineering accomplishment for our species than Apollo.
Anita Sengupta, rocket scientist and aerospace engineer

On the aerospace industry's impact on Southern California:

When you talk to people in the street and they say, 'What's the industry in Southern California LA?' The industry is Hollywood right? That's the first thing most people think about. But in this period from World War II through this early part of the Cold War in the Space Race especially, I mean the industry was aerospace. And I think most people who grew up here like myself understand that everybody had family members, neighbors, friends who worked in the industry — it was zero degrees of separation. So many people were in the business and it was really central. Apollo poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Southern California and that was really what fueled this tremendous growth of Southern California in this period.
Peter J. Westwick, aerospace historian

Featuring a pre-recorded interview with Poppy Northcutt:


John Casani – veteran JPL chief engineer who joined the early Pioneer moon program and went on to lead several of NASA’s missions to deep space, including the designs for the Ranger and Mariner spacecrafts; in 2009, he was honored with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's prestigious lifetime achievement award, the museum’s highest honor

Peter J. Westwick – director of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West; he’s a research professor of history at USC and the editor and author of several books, including “Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California” (2012 Huntington Library and University of California Press) and “Into the Black: JPL and the American Space Program, 1976–2004” (2011 Yale University Press)

Anita Sengupta – rocket scientist, aerospace engineer and research associate professor of astronautics at USC; she was an entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 16 years and responsible for the supersonic parachute system integral for the Curiosity Rover landing on Mars in 2012; she tweets @Doctor_Astro

Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, the first woman to work in an operational support role at NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston during the Apollo program; she tweets at @poppy_northcutt and is also featured in the new documentary film “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition,” which is currently playing across the country, including at the California Science Center until Oct. 3