…our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration…

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module (Eagle) on the moon, as Michael Collins orbited the moon in the command module (Pilot).  Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, on July 16 and returned to Earth on July 24 after more than eight days in space. Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, famously declaring as he did so ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

In addition to its historic and scientific importance, the Apollo 11 mission was, and remains, a culturally significant event. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, UCD Library’s Cultural Heritage Units have consulted our catalogues and prepared two blog posts (one yesterday and one today) in celebration of the moon and the moon landings themselves.

The Moon Landings

Éamon de Valera was President of Ireland during the Cold-War inspired space-race. His papers, held in UCD Archives, include documents concerning both the Russian and American moon-landing achievements. Unfortunately, none of the photographs referred to in the letters remain in de Valera’s papers.

In August 1964 Robert T. Chalker, Charges d’Affaires at the American embassy in Dublin, forwards a letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to de Valera enclosing photographs taken by Ranger 7, the first lunar probe to successfully transmit images of the lunar surface back to Earth. Johnson writes that it is

‘..an honor and a privilege to present to you and your people on behalf of the people of the United States this special set of photographs of the Moon taken on this historic flight of the Ranger VII. These photographs symbolize the continuing desire of the United States that the benefits of this age of scientific discovery may be shared among all nations and all peoples for the cause of peace and human progress.’

De Valera expresses his gratitude remarking that the photographs ‘are a striking manifestation of the remarkable contribution which the United States is making to the extension of man’s knowledge of outer space.’

President Éamon de Valera wrote to Nikolai Viktorovich Podgorny, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, in June 1966 to thank Podgorny for photographs he sent of the surface of the moon taken by Luna 9, the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the Moon. De Valera writes:

In accepting these photographs and the accompanying emblems, which mark an important step in man’s exploration of space, may I congratulate you and join with you in the hope that science will always be employed for the progress and betterment of mankind, and not for destruction.’

On the same day, that de Valera wrote to Podgorny, President Johnson wrote to de Valera mentioning Surveyor I, the first NASA lunar soft-lander: ‘if we are wise and earnest, what is happening in outer space can help us live better together on earth‘.

The text on the above right is President de Valera’s message in Irish with English translation which was placed on the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11:

May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him, also, to secure peace and happiness upon earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.’

Copy letter from Irish Ambassador to the USA, William P. Fay, to the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Hugh J. McCann, thanking him for De Valera’s message and enclosing a copy of the letter received by the Ambassador from the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Thomas O. Paine. Fay writes that

I am sure that the President will be interested to learn of the extraordinary technical expertise which has enabled this message to be brought in the confined space available. You will notice that in all seventy-three heads of State have accepted the invitation of NASA to send a message saluting the achievement as one of the whole of mankind’ (14 July 1969).

Paine outlines the contents of the disc which the astronauts will bring with them to leave on the moon:

The message has been micro-photographically reproduced onto a small disc together with similar messages of goodwill from the leaders of seventy-two other countries; quotations of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon; and listings of the United States Congressional leadership and Committee membership responsible for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s legislation; and a roster of NASA’s management.

Paine also describes in detail how De Valera’s message

‘..was processed for preservation on the surface of the moon. The technique used is on developed for etching microminiaturised electronic circuits utilized in NASA’s space missions. With this process, the messages of goodwill were etched on a silicon disc about 3cm in diameter. Your message appears on the disc exactly as you sent it, but reduced two hundred times to a size smaller than the head of a pin (about .05 millimeter square). Under a high-powered microscope the message can be clearly seen and read along with its companion messages.’

The letter below left is one  of congratulations to President Richard M. Nixon from President de Valera:

On behalf of the people of Ireland I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful team work of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the era which has been opened.’

A duplicate of the disc which was deposited on the moon was send to President de Valera by Mr Paine. The contents of the disc may be read here but the process for reading this duplicate was somewhat elaborate:

The messages of good will from so many nations throughout the world can be read on the photographic enlargement of the disc by placing the accompanying magnifying lupe directly on the surface of the photograph. In sending these items to President de Valera, please express to him our deep appreciation for his participation in man’s historic first voyage to another world.’

  • This post was researched and written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.

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