Two Magical Places That Sent Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back

Published on July 13, 2019

Written by Kenneth Chang/NY Times

They’ve nearly vanished, but hubs in Southern California and on Long Island played key roles in the lunar race.

The people and places that brought us Apollo 11 are disappearing.

While the astronauts and NASA’s mission control in Houston garnered the most attention during the moon landings, an army worked to put the pieces together across the country. That included the rocket scientists in Alabama who developed the Saturn 5 rocket, the women who sewed the parachutes, the Navy divers who met the astronauts after splashdown.

“Thank you, the 300-and-some-thousand Americans working on that program,” Michael Collins, the command module pilot of Apollo 11, said in a recent interview. “They all did their jobs so properly.”

The two key pieces that were the astronauts’ home during their lunar trips were built on opposite sides of the country.

The Apollo capsules rolled off the assembly line in Downey, Calif., a small city 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Fifty years ago, NASA owned a 160-acre swath of Downey — the size of two Disneylands — that was home to factories, offices and test facilities.

“We referred it to as a city within the city,” said Gerald Blackburn, one of the more than 25,000 people who came to work here at the height of Apollo program in the mid-1960s. “We worked at the spaceship factory. We were all part of a team. Team Apollo. It was a magical place.”

That is gone, replaced by a sprawl of stores, movie theaters and restaurants.

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