John’s Believe It Or Not… July 20th

In 1969 Armstrong walks on moon. In 1976 Viking 1 lands on Mars. In 1951 King of Jordan assassinated. In 1881 Sitting Bull surrenders. In 1963 Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” hits #1.

John Fioravanti is standing in front of the blackboard in his classroom.

It’s Therapeutic Thursday! Did you know…

* 1969 Armstrong walks on moon. (At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy’s bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.”

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

“Buzz” Aldrin joined him on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.”

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy’s 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.)

Neil Armstrong salutes the flag.
Neil Armstrong salutes the flag. (Pinterest)

* 1976 Viking 1 lands on Mars. (On the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the Viking 1 lander, an unmanned U.S. planetary probe, becomes the first spacecraft to successfully land on the surface of Mars.

Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. The first month of its orbit was devoted to imaging the surface to find appropriate landing sites. On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter, touched down on the Chryse Planitia region of Mars, and sent back the first close-up photographs of the rust-colored Martian surface.

In September 1976, Viking 2–launched only three weeks after Viking 1–entered into orbit around Mars, where it assisted Viking 1 in imaging the surface and also sent down a lander. During the dual Viking missions, the two orbiters imaged the entire surface of Mars at a resolution of 150 to 300 meters, and the two landers sent back more than 1,400 images of the planet’s surface.)

The Viking 1 lander which arrived on Mars in July 1976: Scientists now believe there is strong evidence of microbial life in the soil samples analysed by Viking 1
The Viking 1 lander which arrived on Mars in July 1976: Scientists now believe there is strong evidence of microbial life in the soil samples analyzed by Viking 1 (

* 1951 King of Jordan assassinated. (While entering a mosque in the Jordanian sector of east Jerusalem, King Abdullah of Jordan is assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist.

Abdullah was a member of the Hashemites, an Arab dynasty said to be directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad. During World War I, with British support, Abdullah led an Arab revolt against Turkish rule in Jordan. In 1921, the British made him the emir of Transjordan, and with Jordanian independence in 1946, he became the country’s monarch. Two years later, he led his armies against the newly declared state of Israel, and Jordan annexed east Jerusalem along with the portions of Palestine now known as the West Bank. In 1951, his efforts to create an Arab federation under Hashemite rule ended when he was assassinated in Jerusalem.

After a brief sojourn on the Jordanian throne, Abdullah’s son was declared mentally unfit to rule and was replaced by Abdullah’s grandson, Hussein bin Talal. King Hussein ruled until he died in 1999; he was succeeded by his son, Abdullah.)

King Abdullah I (1882-1951), who was assassinated as he was entering Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday prayers.
King Abdullah I (1882-1951), who was assassinated as he was entering Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday prayers. (Jordan Times)

* 1881 Sitting Bull surrenders. (Five years after General George A. Custer’s infamous defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader Sitting Bull surrenders to the U.S. Army, which promises amnesty for him and his followers. Sitting Bull had been a major leader in the 1876 Sioux uprising that resulted in the death of Custer and 264 of his men at Little Bighorn. Pursued by the U.S. Army after the Indian victory, he escaped to Canada with his followers.

Born in the Grand River Valley in what is now South Dakota, Sitting Bull gained early recognition in his Sioux tribe as a capable warrior and a man of vision. In 1864, he fought against the U.S. Army under General Alfred Sully at Killdeer Mountain and thereafter dedicated himself to leading Sioux resistance against white encroachment. He soon gained a following in not only his own tribe but in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Native American groups as well. In 1867, he was made principal chief of the entire Sioux nation.

In 1873, in what would serve as a preview of the Battle of Little Bighorn three years later, an Indian military coalition featuring the leadership of Sitting Bull skirmished briefly with Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. In 1876, Sitting Bull was not a strategic leader in the U.S. defeat at Little Bighorn, but his spiritual influence inspired Crazy Horse and the other victorious Indian military leaders. He subsequently fled to Canada, but in 1881, with his people starving, he returned to the United States and surrendered.

He was held as a prisoner of war at Fort Randall in South Dakota territory for two years and then was permitted to live on Standing Rock Reservation straddling North and South Dakota territory. In 1885, he traveled for a season with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show and then returned to Standing Rock. In 1889, the spiritual proclamations of Sitting Bull influenced the rise of the “Ghost Dance,” an Indian religious movement that proclaimed that the whites would disappear and the dead Indians and buffalo would return.

His support of the Ghost Dance movement had brought him into disfavor with government officials, and on December 15, 1890, Indian police burst into Sitting Bull’s house in the Grand River area of South Dakota and attempted to arrest him. There is confusion as to what happened next. By some accounts, Sitting Bull’s warriors shot the leader of the police, who immediately turned and gunned down Sitting Bull. In another account, the police were instructed by Major James McLaughlin, director of the Standing Rock Sioux Agency, to kill the chief at any sign of resistance. Whatever the case, Sitting Bull was fatally shot and died within hours. The Indian police hastily buried his body at Fort Yates within the Standing Rock Reservation. In 1953, his remains were moved into Mobridge, South Dakota, where a granite shaft marks his resting place.)

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill. (

* 1963 Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” hits #1. (“Two girls for every boy!” went the immortal opening line from Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” the song that reached the top of the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1963. It was a claim that wasn’t actually supported by the facts, but it helped create a popular image of California as a paradise of sun and sand and endless summers.

To anyone with just a passing familiarity with 1960s pop music, “Surf City” might easily be mistaken for a Beach Boys record, though in fact, the Beach Boys had yet to have a #1 of their own when Jan and Dean scored theirs on this day in 1963. Still, “Surf City” owes its existence directly to the Beach Boys and their resident genius Brian Wilson.

High-school classmates Jan Berry and Dean Torrance earned a pair of minor hits while still in their teens, including one — “Baby Talk” (#10 1959)— that Beach Boy Mike Love would later credit as an inspiration for his group’s 1961 debut single, “Surfin’.” But by 1962, the direction of influence between the two groups had shifted. Jan and Dean’s doo-wop flavored sound was passing out of fashion, and when the duo met the Beach Boys while appearing on the same bill at a Los Angeles record hop, they heard the sound that would reinvigorate their career. They became good friends with the Beach Boys and with Brian Wilson in particular, and when they asked Wilson if they could record one of his songs, he declined to give Jan and Dean their first choice, the then-unrecorded “Surfin’ Safari,” but he did give them the instrumental track and opening line to “Surf City.”

In a year that also saw the debut of the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon Beach Party movie franchise, “Surf City” became the first chart-topping surf song ever. Jan and Dean would go on to have four more significant surf hits in their career:: “Honolulu Lulu” (#11, 1963); “Drag City” (#10, 1963); “Dead Man’s Curve” (#8, 1964); and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” (#3, 1964).


Jan & Dean - Surf City - 1963
Jan & Dean – Surf City – 1963. (YouTube)

Today’s Sources:

* This Day In History – What Happened Today


Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

33 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 20th”

  1. Oh, and for those of us born in 1950 (oh, we were the lucky ones) we adored all the surf music, and then grew up with the Beatles and Motown. Even my children and grandchildren agree that was the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting day in history. I remember being glued to the black and white TV to watch the landing on the moon. The next year I went to the Smithsonian to see the moon rock. People could touch it. Very cool. Last year my husband and I brought our grandchildren to see and touch that famous rock. After all these years, the rock is now but a flat sliver. Sad to see that drastic change.

    Liked by 1 person

                  1. Yup! I was so excited to see it once again. The location and way to touch the rock hadn’t changed at all, just the rock. Bummer. Well, if I were a science teacher I could talk about the effects of nature and mankind on the earth: erosion and water over time… something like that. There’s always a teaching moment.


          1. Sorry, I meant to say the rock was reduced to no more than 3″ by 2″ and flat as a pancake. Very smooth, too. Nothing like what it had originally been. A good idea to let people touch a piece of the moon, but yet…


  3. What a great list of history reflections! Thank you, John. I particularly liked reading about Armstrong and couldn’t help but go to other sources as well – amazing man and an example for all of humility and commitment to the global family. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s an Armstrong story for you, Gwen: Sometime after he uttered those famous words, he also said this, “This one’s for you, Mr. Gorkin.” Mission Control asked him what it meant and who Mr. Gorkin was, but Armstrong refused to say anymore. For years, the media questioned him about the Gorkin reference when he made public appearances, but he always refused to comment. About 20 years later, Armstrong was asked the question again and this time he explained. Since both Mr. & Mrs. Gorkin had passed away, he felt free to tell the story. When he was a youngster, he was playing ball with a friend in his backyard. The ball went over the fence into the Gorkin’s yard next door. The ball had rolled directly under an open window, and when he bent over to retrieve it, he heard Mrs. Gorkin exclaim to her husband, “You want sex? You’ll get sex when the kid next door walks on the moon!” True story. Thanks for your kind words, Gwen!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I remember that first step as if it was last week. I wish it had been a bigger stride for mankind.
    The killing of Sitting Bull was heinous. I’m sure it was murder.
    A short burst of Surf before the Beatles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I put that video up for you, Opher, thinking you might enjoy that goofy early 60s music video. I was a Jan & Dean fan as a kid and I had a couple of their albums – I drove my mother crazy playing them over and over on the HiFi set in the living room. Yes, I remember that first step on the moon clearly too – sitting around the TV set in my parents’ basement family room. I would have killed for HD quality video of that event! Thanks for your comments, sir!

      Liked by 2 people

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