Published: December 1969
Sounds of the Space Age
From Sputnik to lunar landing
By National Geographic staff

This article was originally published in the December 1969 issue of the magazine.

(Audio: Hear the 1969 National Geographic recording, Sounds of the Space Age.)

They were eerie, those first electronic beeps. Later came the voices, exultant in the thrill of discovery. Each sound leaping the chasm of space bore to a rapt world the drama of man’s venture into the airless void beyond his home planet.

That drama—culminating in the first landing on the moon—comes vividly alive in the special recording, “Sounds of the Space Age, From Sputnik to Lunar Landing,” presented to the National Geographic Society’s worldwide membership with this issue. Its narrator: Col. Frank Borman, firm friend and eight year member of the Society, whose voice was heard by millions last December when he and his companions in Apollo 8 became the first men to orbit the moon.

Pressed on vinyl flexible enough to be bound into the magazine, yet durable enough for excellent sound reproduction, this record—issued in an edition of 6½ million copies stands as another milestone in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC history. This is the second time the Society’s magazine has marked an era with distribution of a record. Our first, in the August 1965 issue, brought to members the voice and funeral of the Allies’ great World War II leader, Sir Winston Churchill.

For the “Sounds of Space,” your Society brought together recordings from all possible sources: NASA, the United States Air Force—even Radio Moscow, which provided the voice of Yuri Gagarin, first man in space.

From this 12-year wealth of auditory history of space exploration, Joseph Judge, of the Society’s Senior Editorial Staff, and Jon H. Larimore, staff audiovisual engineer, distilled 10 minutes and 51 seconds of playing time.

As America’s first orbital flight begins, you will hear a controller’s prayerful benediction: “May God speed John Glenn.” You will hear Ed White’s ecstatic voice as he walks in space—and returns with laughing reluctance.

You will hear Neil Armstrong’s historic words as he sets foot on the moon: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

To ensure a record of the highest quality (electronic filtering has improved the clarity of many of the voices), your Society recorded the complete Apollo 11 space-ground communications, piped by two phone lines from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. At Society headquarters, diesel generators, a safeguard against power failures, drove the recorders.

The Apollo 11 tapes, on 95 10-inch reels, now form a part of your Society’s growing audiovisual library—a part that is literally out of this world.