Alameda's U.S.S. Hornet played key role in Apollo 11 mission

Tuesday marked the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon-- one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements.

It was on this day in 1969 that the crew “Apollo 11” blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

KTVU was on board the U.S.S. Hornet Tuesday for a private event to mark the occasion. The ship actually played a critical role in this historical moment. The ship was assigned to the recovery mission when the command module splashed down into the Pacific Ocean. 

We spoke with two crew members who both offered very different perspectives: one by air and the other by sea. One crew member was an officer at the time in charge of the swim teams. John McLachlen watched from inside a helicopter as the command module descended. His team was also in charge of keeping the module afloat once it touched the water. He described the moment they first spotted the module in the sky.

“We could see the fireball from the command module as it was re-entering. That was extremely exciting, and then we didn't see it for a minute or two probably because of clouds. Then all of a sudden we looked up and right above us it was coming down,” said McLachlen. 

Once the module splashed down, the astronauts were brought onto the ship for the welcome home celebration with President Nixon. 

Navy sailor Larry Silva was 19-years-old at the time and had a funny story to tell. He says he was responsible for making sure President Nixon didn't trip over the cables that the TV crews brought on-board. He said there was one very intense moment when the president was walking next to the cable and he was nervous that he might trip, but all went well. 

Silva says he had the best seat on the ship for that special moment in history.

“From the time the president arrived to our last recovery of the aircraft that afternoon, I was able to see a 360 degree view of the whole recovery,” said Silva.

Cisco Webex assisted with a live stream of the gala at the Kennedy Space Center, and connected the crew members in Alameda with Apollo astronauts who were attending the gala. 

Interestingly enough, upon their return, the astronauts went from one small space to another. They were quarantined in an Airstream trailer for 21 days due to fears of contamination from the moon. The actual trailer is displayed on the ship. 

Proceeds from the event benefit the Aldrin Family Foundation and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.