Today marks the 50th anniversary of humans first walking on the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made history and their efforts and those of NASA will never be forgotten.
Fifty years ago this week, Apollo 11 came to a triumphant conclusion after astronauts splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Once aboard the USS Hornet, they smiled cheerfully for reporters and joked around with President Richard M. Nixon, who said, "This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation."
Though almost no one knew it at the time, the mission had nearly ended in disaster. It was only spared at the last minute by two canny meteorologists with access to a top-secret weather satellite.
In the years leading up to Apollo 11, intelligence officials had deployed a network of spy satellites to take pictures of potential missile sites in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. After taking photos, the satellites would discharge the film in a canister outfitted with parachutes, which would be collected by a cargo plane on its descent to Earth.
Weather was a big factor in this effort. Intelligence officials didn't want to waste valuable film taking pictures of clouds, nor did they want the canisters to parachute into the middle of a storm. So they deployed sophisticated weather satellites to make sure that didn't happen.
"It was so top secret that I wasn't allowed to show anybody," Air Force meteorologist Hank Brandli told the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance in 2005. "The vice commander wasn't even briefed. It was wicked hush-hush."
Brandli, who was based at Hickam Air Force base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, issued weather forecasts for the spy program. And while he had no official role in Apollo 11, he would come to play a key role in the success of the mission.
Just three days before the astronauts returned to Earth, he noticed that the command module was set to splash down in the middle of a "screaming eagle," a term Brandli coined to describe thunderstorms that look like an eagle in satellite images. In this case, there were "all the signs of a major tropical storm forming over the splashdown site," Brandli said.
The storm, with its towering clouds and powerful winds, threatened to tear apart the parachutes on the lunar module on its descent into the Pacific. "Without parachutes, they'd have crashed into the ocean with a force that would have killed them instantly," Brandli told DOMAIN Magazine in 2004.
Brandli was uniquely positioned to forecast the storm, as the weather satellite he used was more advanced than any in NASA's arsenal. But he wasn't allowed to talk about what he had seen.
"I knew that the Apollo 11 would come back and they would get killed because I had this classified information," he told Weather-wise magazine in 2003. "A screaming eagle would be moving westward and would hit this area. I know this is going to happen. Nobody is allowed to see my pictures."
After Brandli discovered the storm, he reached out to Navy meteorologist Willard "Sam" Houston, who handled weather forecasts for the fleet of ships tasked with recovering Apollo 11.
Brandli asked Houston, who was also stationed at Pearl Harbor, to meet him in a parking lot so he could tell him about the impending thunderstorm. In an unlikely turn of events, Houston also knew about the spy program and had clearance to see the images from the weather satellite.
After reviewing the images, Houston went to Rear Adm. Donald Davis, who was in charge of the recovery fleet, to tell him about the thunderstorm. "But Houston had to convince Admiral Davis without the photos, which were from a satellite that wasn't supposed to exist," Brandli told DOMAIN. "He couldn't tell him how he knew what he knew."
With only Houston's word to go on, Davis redirected the USS Hornet to a new splashdown site more than 200 miles away. Given the time it would take for the ship to reach the area, Davis had to issue the order before conferring with NASA. Had Houston been wrong about the forecast, it would have ended both of their careers.
After speaking with Davis, Houston urged intelligence officials to share the top-secret weather forecast with NASA, which redirected the command module to the new splashdown site at the last minute.
On July 24, 1969, the astronauts finally returned to Earth, where they were met with sunny skies and placid seas. Skeptical of the top-secret weather forecast, NASA sent planes to the original landing site "just to see if I had been crying wolf," Houston told students at the Navy Postgraduate School in 2009. Pilots found the "screaming eagle" tearing through the area just as Brandli had predicted.
Official records from the time note that poor weather forced NASA to change the splashdown site, but they make no mention of Brandli, Houston or the satellite. It was not until President Bill Clinton declassified the spy satellite program in 1995 that the meteorologists could talk about what happened. What is publicly known of their heroics largely comes from interviews they gave before they died, many of which Brandli collected on his personal website. Brandli died in 2007.
Reflecting on the event in 2005, Brandli said how glad he was to have worked with Houston, who received a Navy Commendation Medal for his role in the mission. "It was a huge undertaking to move the carrier recovery fleet and convince the 'powers that be' to change the landing site," Brandli said. "Capt. Houston did a hell of a job. I often wonder: if it had been anyone else, would it have happened the same way?"
MECHANICSBURG — A Shamokin couple were charged Thursday in relation to the alleged abuse and 2016 death of their infant child while living in Cumberland County.
SUNBURY — During a pre-trial conference on Friday morning, Northumberland County President Judge Charles H. Saylor granted a stay request from defense attorney James Best on behalf of his client Jose Colon, 42, of Shamokin. Colon was charged by Shamokin police with first-degree homicide for …
SHAMOKIN — While looking ahead, the City of Shamokin has not forgotten about its historic past. In an effort to preserve much of that history, City Administrator Robert Slaby is currently working with Northumberland County Grants Manager Justin Skavery to obtain a Multimodal Transportation F…
At Wrigley Field, misters in the back of the bleachers tried to cool the crowd. At Yankee Stadium, only one player took batting practice on the field. In Cleveland, rules were relaxed on what fans could bring into the park.
OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — After a 4 1/2-hour delay because of extreme heat and concern for the horses, Monmouth Park resumed its biggest card of the year, paving the way for the $1 million Haskell Invitational with Maximum Security to be run just before sunset.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pogopalooza, known as the World Championships of Pogo, is bouncing into Pittsburgh this weekend.
NEW YORK (AP) — ESPN is reminding employees of the network's policy to avoid talking about politics after radio talk show host Dan Le Batard criticized President Donald Trump and his recent racist comments and ESPN itself on the air this week.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A moonstruck nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's "giant leap" by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin at parties, races, ball games and concerts Saturday, toasting with Tang and gobbling MoonPies.
NEW YORK (AP) — Americans from Texas to Maine sweated out a steamy Saturday as a heat wave canceled events from festivals to horse races and pushed New York City to order steps to avoid straining the electrical system.
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Doctors say boxer Maxim Dadashev had surgery at a Maryland hospital for swelling on his brain after collapsing outside the ring after losing a match.
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump's suggestion that four activist Democratic congresswomen of color "go back" to countries "from which they came" has excited some in his political base. Yet in many of America's workplaces and institutions, the same language would be unacceptable and pos…
SHAMOKIN — There has been a water main break behind the Shamokin Post Office on Commerce Street, which has poured a large volume of water onto that street. Officials from Aqua Pennsylvania, the city and county have been notified and are on the scene to repair the 6-inch main. Drivers are ask…
HONOLULU (AP) — Walter Ritte has been fighting for decades to protect Native Hawaiian rights, inspiring a new generation of activists trying to stop construction of a giant telescope they see as representative of a bigger struggle.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida survives on tourism, but a decade ago thousands of visitors made frequent trips to the state not to visit its theme parks or beaches. Instead, they came for cheap and easy prescription painkillers sold at unscrupulous walk-in clinics.
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Glacier National Park officials are teed off over a report that tourists were hitting golf balls off Going-to-the-Sun Road during a traffic delay.
SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Mexico (AP) — A small group of asylum seekers sit under a canopy on the side of a road leading into the United States, chatting to pass the time as a blazing desert sun pushes the heat into triple digits and fumes roll in from dozens of cars lined up to cross the U.S.-…
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — With the deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo now an international emergency , neighboring South Sudan and its war-weakened health system is a major concern, especially after one case was confirmed near its border. Health experts say there is an urgent need to increase pre…
CLAIRTON, Pa. (AP) — Police in western Pennsylvania say four young people were wounded in an early morning shooting at a graduation party near Pittsburgh.
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. (AP) — At 79 years old, Art McManus says he's still able to hop on the tractor and maintain the 160 acres of cherry trees at his orchard in Traverse City, Michigan.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has reversed his previous criticisms of a North Carolina campaign crowd that chanted "send her back" about a Somali-born congresswoman.
FLINT, Mich. (AP) — As her campaign bus trundled along Interstate 80 toward the Michigan-Ohio border, Kirsten Gillibrand was offering wedding planning advice to one of her presidential campaign staffers who recently got engaged.
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a woman in Florida who they say tried to attack another woman with a knife when she was denied a slice of pizza.
SUNBURY – Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver (R-108) will be hosting the ninth annual Senior Expo on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Shikellamy High School Cafeteria, located at 600 Walnut St. The event is being sponsored by UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury.
Anglican Church of SS Philip and James
Northumberland County Senior Action Center activities for the week of July 21.
SUNBURY — The District Attorney’s Office filed charges against a Sunbury woman for allegedly delivering tobacco and Suboxone to the Northumberland County Jail around 8 p.m. May 10.
SCRANTON — Lackawanna College has announced a partnership with Knoebels Amusement Resort for a scholarship program that will offer tuition assistance to its employees. The program will benefit full- and part-time students enrolled at Lackawanna’s main campus in Scranton, its five satellite c…
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office.
Here's your look at highlights from the weekly AP photo report, a gallery featuring a mix of front-page photography, the odd image you might have missed and lasting moments our editors think you should see.
NEW YORK (AP) — About a third of New York City's subway lines were suspended for more than an hour during Friday's hot evening commute, and the head of the city's Transit Authority acknowledged that the agency "did not know exactly where our trains were."
Today in History
MOUNT CARMEL — On a 6-1 vote Thursday night, Mount Carmel Area School Board approved a revised dress code policy after hearing complaints from three parents who claim the changes will be detrimental to their children in multiple ways.
SUNBURY — With an excessive heat warning in place for today through 8 p.m. Saturday, medical and social service professionals are urging residents to take care of themselves and their neighbors.
“Dangerous” heat and humidity will affect the region today and this weekend, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in State College.
MOUNT CARMEL — The handling of blighted and fire-damaged properties was discussed in earnest at Thursday’s sweltering Mount Carmel Borough meeting. Legal questions abounded concerning how to handle delinquent property owners who say they’re going to cleanup blight but never do anything. In a…
SUNBURY — A Coal Township resident has filed suit against several parties, including Aqua Pennsylvania and its contractors, for negligence after tripping over a raised water valve cap.
MOUNT CARMEL — Santa is leaving the cold of the North Pole to enjoy a little summer weather in Mount Carmel July 27 at Mount Carmel Downtown Inc.’s third annual Christmas in July.
SHAMOKIN — City hall employees gathered Thursday to say goodbye to Code Enforcement Officer Rick Bozza, whose final day is today. He served the city for nearly eight years.
MILLMONT — More than 500 Scouts and leaders attended Scouts BSA sessions at Camp Karoondinha this summer.
HONOLULU (AP) — Is there life on planets outside our solar system? How did stars and galaxies form in the earliest years of the universe? How do black holes shape galaxies?
MIAMI (AP) — A Florida sheriff launched an investigation Friday into whether his department properly monitored the wealthy financer Jeffrey Epstein while he was serving a sentence for soliciting prostitution from underage girls.
HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. government on Friday expanded its requirement that asylum seekers wait outside the country to a part of the Texas Rio Grande Valley across from one of Mexico's most dangerous cities.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Marylou Whitney, a successful thoroughbred breeder and owner whose family helped keep Saratoga Race Course open in the 1970s, has died. She was 93.
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — An offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals who was released this week has surrendered to police in North Carolina after a warrant was issued for his arrest on an assault charge.
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) — An alligator that eluded capture for days in a Chicago lagoon is settling in its new home in Florida.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump can tell Rep. Ilhan Omar to "go back" to Somalia all he wants. All indications suggest she's not going anywhere.
PHOENIX (AP) — Before she was hearing cases on the U.S. Supreme Court, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was bringing people together in her historic Arizona home.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday kept alive a lawsuit brought by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in the killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, that alleges his rights were violated when he was denied hepatitis C drugs.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A baby alligator was found far from the tropics in the parking lot of a grocery store outside Pittsburgh on Friday morning, the fourth alligator discovered near the city since May.
NEW YORK (AP) — When special counsel Robert Mueller closed the books on the Russia investigation, he produced a report of more than 400 pages, and Attorney General William Barr held a news conference outlining the reasons the Justice Department didn't charge President Donald Trump.
- Chrystal Ann Henley
- Mount Carmel man charged with rape, incest
- Shamokin couple charged in relation to child's death while living in Cumberland County
- Mt. Carmel man accused of sending nude photo to 12-year-old girl
- Accident on Trevorton Road
- Shamokin council accepts letter of resignation from Patrolman Scott Weaver
- SASD board names new elementary principal
- Walter F. Kozlowski
- Police: Man smashes windows, makes threats while toting rifle on Chemung Street
- Elvera Ann (Rickert) Snyder