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How Bermuda helped put man on the Moon

Bert Larson and his wife Jenette, centre background, during a Nasa Bermuda crew reunion. Also featured in the background (left to right): Clarence Sommner, Les Lynch, Cal Simons, Roger Oldfield. Foreground: Robert Burgess, Allan Furbert, William Todd. (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda played a significant role in the historic first Moon landing, which happened 50 years ago today.

The United States’ Nasa tracking station on Cooper’s Island was part of the chain of centres around the world that helped monitor the flight of Apollo 11.

The mission led to Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to walk on the Moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin, after their Eagle landing craft made its famous touchdown.

Michael Collins piloted the command module, which orbited the Moon during the landing and was used to bring the three-man team home.

Nasa built the Cooper’s Island station in 1961 to help spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

During the Apollo 11 mission, the site was one of 15 stations used to communicate with the crew of the spacecraft from launch to splashdown back on earth.

High-tech antennae were installed to communicate over the 238,855 miles between the earth and the Moon.

Bert Larson, an American member of the Nasa Bermuda base for 30 years, alongside several Bermudian employees, told The Royal Gazette in 1998 that the Moon landing was the highlight of his career.

He remembered when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 and Armstrong said: “Houston — Tranquillity Base here — the Eagle has landed.”

Mr Larson said: “There have been some remarkable moments. It’s going to be a part of history.”

The station was staffed by more than 150 communications and instrument technicians who worked around the clock to communicate with manned space flights.

Because of its geographical location and closeness to the US Naval Air Station in Bermuda, the Cooper’s Island tracking station was a vital part of Nasa’s manned space-flight network.

The station was crucial during the Mercury-Atlas 9 space mission in 1963 when it was the only radar station able to keep contact with the spacecraft.

The Cooper’s Island tracking station also supported the Gemini space programme in 1961, which was used to develop the technology and skills that made the Apollo mission successful. It supported every manned space flight that Nasa flew, a total of 118 missions, before it was closed in 1997.