Apollo 11 crew

Apollo 11 crew, from left: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

(Undated) -- One of KMAland's former astronauts is celebrating next week's major milestone in space history.

On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon. A few hours later, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon's surface. Clayton Anderson watched the Apollo 11 mission and many others while growing up in Ashland, Nebraska. Those early spaceflights inspired Anderson to become an astronaut, himself.

In an interview on KMA's "Morning Line" program Friday morning, Anderson recalled that reaching the moon was a big win for the United States in its cold war space race with the Soviet Union.

"I think it established us as the preeminent space fairing nation," said Anderson. "Depending on who you read and listen to, it also put a huge puncture in the Soviet balloon that some people think caused their society to begin to crumble a little bit. It was a big win for America, it was a big win for the Soviet Union, and changed the course of history for most."

Anderson, who spent more than 166 days in space on two separate missions to the International Space Station, calls Armstrong, Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins "real astronauts" because of the dangers they faced in their moon mission.

"I had a pretty good understanding that I was going to come back safely," he said, "and that everything was going to work well, because the shuttle had flown hundreds of times. But, these guys were getting on rockets and getting into vehicles that had barely been tested. There was a lot of uncertainty. So, I give them a lot of credit for being the real deal, in that they took a huge risk to get to the moon and back.

"I'm standing on their shoulders, based on the facts that they did what they did with the technology levels that were available at the time. So, I owe those guys a lot," Anderson added.

Anderson says Armstrong and Aldrin relied on their military and space training when alarms sounded as the lunar module attempted to land--indicating computer problems. Also backing up the astronauts was the team of flight controllers at Mission Control in Houston--including an Iowa native who saved the mission.

"I would point out to the great folks of Iowa that the guy that made the call from the back room about the alarm to ignore it was Steve Bales from Iowa State University," said Anderson. "So, all those things worked together. All those things work together. Neil and Buzz knew they had a bunch of people on the ground watching their backs. And for them as fighter pilots to take control was pretty much normal for them."

Budget cuts ended the moon missions after Apollo 17 in December, 1972. Anderson rejects the notion that the money spent on space was better spent on earth.

"The first thing I would do is ask them to tweet that on their cell phone that they have in their hand," he said. "And, I would remind them that when they tweet that the satellites in space that allow them to send that tweet around the world are only there because of the space program. I would also remind them that some of their Michael Jordan tennis shoes are only there because of the lunar astronaut boots that they wore. I would also remind the folks of Iowa that the artificial sow and the center point irrigation system have, in part, basics in NASA technology."

Anderson is the author of three books about space travel. You can hear the full interview with Clayton Anderson on our "Morning Line" page at kmaland.com.