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Local journalist recalls covering Apollo 11 event

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Beverly Orndoff still has his press pass from when he covered the first astronauts to land on the moon July 20, 1969.

At the time, the science writer for the Richmond Times Dispatch was covering the event at the Houston Space Center, along with Walter Cronkite and Norman Maler.

He says there were hundreds of reporters there from all over the world covering the event.

“I recall mainly listening through earphones plugged into a NASA audio system and listening to the air to ground,” he says.  “The thing I was listening for was Buzz Aldrin to say ‘contact light.’  When you heard that, you knew they were safely on the ground.”

“The very first people on their feet were the foreign news people watching and applauding.”

Six hours passed before they came out.  When Armstrong set foot on the moon close to 11 p.m. eastern time on Sunday night, Ondorff called the desk in Richmond.

“And in the excitement, I misread my watch and said ‘they came out at 11:54,’ and my friend said, ‘the AP desk said it was 10:56.  Make it 10:56.’  I misread my watch.”

His article appeared on the Times Dispatch’s front page.  The managing editor gave the paper to him when he returned to Richmond.

Years later, Orndoff interviewed Armstrong over the phone on the 25th anniversary.

“He was not a man of many words.  He was terse, but not short.”

“You know it’s the passing of an era and one of our heroes,” he said about Armstrong’s death.

Neil Armstrong had several ties to Central Virginia.  He visited the area several times throughout his life.

In June 1986, Armstrong was the commencement speaker at Virginia Tech.  In January 1996, he spoke at the Richmond Forum.

He was also the chairman of a company called Computing Technologies Aviation, which is based in Charlottesville.  He would travel there frequently by a private plane.

RELATED: Astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on moon, dead at 82

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