Sunday, 20 July 1969, will forever be a day in history that people around the globe will always remember. It was on that epoch-making day that two American astronauts, Commander Neil Armstrong, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module, Eagle, on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility at 20:17 UTC (4:17 pm, Eastern time). Their mission would be written in the pages of history as the first space mission to land men on the surface of the Moon and return them safely to the Earth.
The Apollo 11 astronauts spent 22 hours on the moon’s surface. However, it was those first few moments after touching down that captured everyone’s hearts and attention.
Five decades ago, Neil Armstrong unveiled a plaque with an inscription that read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” And then, it was almost as if time stood still for one brief moment as Armstrong stepped from the Apollo 11 lunar module and the world listened intently as he proclaimed the immortalized words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Buzz Aldrin also placed a box on the moon’s surface, in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. It was a solar-powered seismometer that still rests there today. The instrument was designed by Don Lind, a Latter-day Saint astronaut who not only played a vital role in that first moon landing but in space missions for decades to come.
As a young boy growing up in Midvale, Utah, in 1941, Lind and his sisters could only imagine being aboard spacecraft hurling through the universe. At that time, space travel was something that was dreamed up in comic books and science fiction. It wasn’t until 1961 that the first men ventured into the unknown territory of space. After hearing that news, Lind – then a Navy pilot and Ph.D. of high-energy nuclear physics – knew that he had found his calling.
Lind was a researcher for NASA when the United States began recruiting astronauts for space missions. His background and expertise as a Navy pilot and scientist naturally qualified him as a fit for the program. When Apollo 11 launched its mission, he was placed in charge of lunar surface operations. He meticulously tracked the progress of the astronauts from NASA’s Mission Control, and in the unlikely event that complications arose while Armstrong and Aldrin roamed the moon’s surface, he was there to guide them. He told The Salt Lake Tribune, “I had worked out all the procedures and tested everything. I was literally the expert.”
Lind also helped design the two main experiments set up on that first moon landing—the seismometers built to detect moonquakes and a foil retroreflector—both of which answered mysteries about the moon. The metal foil reflector unfurled on the moon allowed NASA to use lasers to measure the distance between the surface of the Earth and moon. The seismometer revealed that the moon is a solid mass without a molten interior. He told The Salt Lake Tribune, “As soon as it unfolded and the sunlight hit the solar panels, it started registering and transmitting signals. It recorded [Aldrin’s] walking away, climbing the ladder of the lunar module, and the click of the door as it shut. It worked beautifully!”
Lind’s spaceflight came 16 years later, in 1985, when he boarded the Challenger for an eight-day journey to study the Aurora Australis. He made a history of special interest to Latter-day Saints as he became not only the first Latter-day Saint in space but also the first Latter-day Saint to partake of the sacrament in space. During the 1985 October general conference, Lind shared how exploring the celestial helped bring him closer to heaven.