Object of the month: Astronaut visits Chile during the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva

During the government of Eduardo Frei M., two groups of NASA astronauts visited our country. One of them even brought a gift to the former President, a few rock fragments of moon, which are now displayed on the second floor of House Museum Eduardo Frei Montalva.

In 1961 U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced to the world that the Apollo space program’s goal would be to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Within the group of astronauts chosen for this important project were Neil Armstrong and Richard F. Gordon, who in October 1966 were visiting our country for four days, sent by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The astronauts arrived in Santiago on October 27 accompanied by their wives, as well as the U.S. Ambassador Ralph A. Dungan and Deputy Director of the Spacecraft Center Manned by NASA(1), George Low. His visit was a token of appreciation from the U.S. government and NASA for the support given in the scientific exploration of outer space, materialized in the installation of satellite tracking stations in Antofagasta (1959) and Peldehue (1961), the last one still operating under the administration of the Centre for Space Studies at the Universidad de Chile.

Both Armstrong and Gordon were in the Gemini Program, which preceded the Apollo Program, which aimed to prepare astronauts, maneuvering and the implements for a future moon landing.

At the time of the visit, Eduardo Frei Montalva was ill, so he received the astronauts with his family at home, on the Hindenburg Street. The collection of the Museum preserves a gift from this mission that brought them to Chile: a photograph of the approach of Gemini 8 (which Neil Armstrong manned) to an Agena, a docking a ship (2), dedicated to the sons of former president, with the signatures of Armstrong and Gordon (3).

“One small step for man …”

In 1968, ENTEL (National Company of Telecommunications) installed in Longovilo the first satellite communications antenna in South America. This allowed that Sunday 20th of July, 1969, about 8 million of Chileans could see from the TV one of the most important history events: the Apollo XI moon landing.

Nearly three years after the first visit by the NASA astronauts, and also the TV in the living room on the second floor of the same house where they were received (which later became desk), Frei Ruiz-Tagle family saw Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the Moon.
Such was the expectation of the Chilean public by the space race that President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared holiday until noon on Monday, so no one will lose the details of the moon landing.

Then in November of the same year, Richard F. Gordon, who also visited Chile with Amnstrong, piloted the Apollo XII Command Module, the second space mission that will put a man on the Moon. In this ship were also Alan Bean and Charles Conrad, who landed on the moon on November 19, 1969.

A photograph of the approach of Gemini 8 to an Agena, dedicated to the sons of former president, with the signatures of Armstrong and Gordon.

A photograph of the approach of Gemini 8 to an Agena, dedicated to the sons of former president, with the signatures of Armstrong and Gordon.

Like the crew of Apollo XI, after that awesome feat, the astronauts made a world tour over 40 countries, as envoys of President Richard Nixon. The three astronauts and their wives, the U.S. Ambassador Edward Korry, diplomats and U.S. and Chilean officials came to our country on February 18, 1970.

Its first activity was to fly by helicopter to the Cerro Castillo (Castillo Hill) Presidential Palace in Viña del Mar, where Eduardo Frei Montalva and his wife Maria Ruiz-Tagle were expecting them. There, they held an exchange of present and former president received a pedestal with three small pieces of moonstone, a Chilean flag that flew to the moon by the Apollo XI, and a plaque of Apollo XII. To this was added a photograph of the Apollo Lunar Module XII orbiting natural satellite, where you can also see the Ocean of Storms, landing site of this mission. The picture is dedicated and has the signature of the three man of the crew. All these objects are now part of the House Museum collection and can be appreciated during the tours.

Back in Santiago, the astronauts were cheered during their car rides through the avenues: Apoquindo, Providencia and Alameda, and they were decorated with the Order of Merit in the rank of Commander in the Palacio La Moneda (La Moneda Palace). (4)

Of course not only a Chilean flag traveled to the moon in July 1969, also did different phrases of world leaders. The wishes of Eduardo Frei Montalva were:
“That people of our planet carry to the moon a message of peace and goodwill from earth, and this country called Chile.”(5)

The house Neil Armstrong visited at the time now saves pieces of moon rock in the same room where the former president and his sons saw the feat of Apollo XI. There you can also read the following message:

“This flag of your nation was carried to the moon and brought back by Apollo XI, and this fragment of the lunar surface was brought to earth by the first manned lunar voyage by men.”


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(1) Acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

(2) In the press release dating from October 28, 1966, specifies that the photograph in question is the Gemini XI, which is incorrect. The original picture that corroborates that belongs to the Gemini VIII database is part of NASA data and can be verified at this link: http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/luceneweb/caption.jsp?searchpage=true&selections=GT8&browsepage=Go&hitsperpage=5&pageno=9&photoId=S66-25781

(3) They were the only gifts that EFM received from astronauts. He also received a photograph of Chile taken from outer space and a Chilean flag carried in the flight of Gemini XI, who manned Richard F. Gordon. This information appears in the press release of October 28, 1966, folder 51.

(4) El Mercurio, February 18, 1970, pg. 19. To Neil Armstrong and Richard Gordon, who came in 1966, they were also given this honor on that occasion.

(5) May the men of our planet take to the moon a message of peace and good will from this place on the Earth that is Chile.

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