In late September of 1969, a mere two months after the successful Apollo 11 Moon landing mission, the Apollo 11 astronauts found themselves about to begin a new journey. President Richard Nixon gave permission for the use of Air Force 2, typically used by the vice president, to take the Apollo 11 astronauts on a tour of the world in an effort to share their new space exploration knowledge with the leaders of foreign nations. Dubbed the “Giantstep-Apollo 11 Presidential Goodwill Tour,” the journey covered 24 countries in just 45 days. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, accompanied by their wives, Janet, Joan, and Patricia, were greeted by enormous crowds in every city as they paraded through main streets and made their way to meet world leaders.
On September 29th, Air Force 2 departed Andrews Air Force Base, stopped at Houston’s Manned Space Center (now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center) to pick up the astronauts, and continued on to their first stop, Mexico City, Mexico, all in one day. The astronauts’ arrival drew unexpectedly large crowds, and as the motorcade made its way through the city, the streets filled with spectators while confetti fell from the buildings above. In the clips below, the astronauts receive sombreros from the crowd. Later on, they attend an indoor reception, still covered in confetti.
A stop of notable importance was Buckingham Palace in London, England. There the astronauts greeted Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and other members of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II was one of many heads of state and government invited to contribute a message of goodwill to be left on the Moon. The clip below shows both parties mingling in the palace.
The next stop on the tour was Rome, Italy (the birthplace of Michael Collins) and the Vatican. The films clips below show the astronauts and their wives exchanging gifts with Pope Paul VI, who also contributed a message of goodwill for the Apollo 11 mission. The astronauts presented the pope with a “lunar display,” containing Moon dust samples and a Vatican City flag that had traveled to the Moon and back. Several countries received similar displays with their respective well-traveled flags.
The Apollo 11 tour didn’t just visit North America and Europe. The astronauts also traveled to Africa, Australia, and Asia. The clips below show the astronauts’ reception in Bangkok, Thailand, where they were presented with gifts from children in the national scouting club. Musicians and dancers then gave a traditional performance while the astronauts watched from a platform above. Many such cultural traditions were shared with the astronauts throughout their extensive tour.
However, the tour didn’t stop there. The astronauts eventually made their way to Tokyo, Japan, before returning to the United States and then departing once more for an additional trip to the Canadian provinces. Films recordings from the rest of the tour can be found in Record Group 255, Series FR and can be accessed at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.