ALAMEDA -- Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts were back on Earth following the first Moon landing in July 1969, but they were still far from safe as their space capsule bobbed on the Pacific Ocean swells.
But the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was nearby and hovering just above them was a Sea King helicopter piloted by the U.S. Navy's Don Jones, who was ready to pluck the astronauts from the ocean and carry each to a hero's welcome.
On Saturday, the staff and volunteers of the USS Hornet, now a floating museum, will mark the 44th anniversary of that first lunar landing and the ship's role in the recovery of the astronauts with an all-day event called "Blades of Majesty," which will focus on its own Sikorsky Sea King helicopter.
While the museum's Sea King is not the one that picked up Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and landed them aboard the Hornet, where President Richard Nixon was among those waiting to greet the men, the helicopter still played a role in space exploration history.
The Hornet's Sea King was the recovery aircraft for the crew of Gemini 4 in June 1965, the mission when Astronaut Ed White carried out the first spacewalk by an American, plus the helicopter was used in the Ron Howard film Apollo 13.
Joe Martinez, a retired Navy First Class Petty Officer and the Hornet's helicopter restoration specialist, will lead a dedication ceremony at the Sea King at 1 p.m.
Bob Fish, a Hornet trustee and the author of "Hornet Plus Three -- The Story of Apollo 11 Recovery," will take part, as well as Mike Arrowsmith, a Navy helicopter pilot with two tours in Vietnam.
Rob Blickle, who became a pilot in 1973 and was commander of Squadron HS-85 in Alameda, will also be on hand.
The day's other activities will include a performance by the Hornet Band beginning at noon and guided Apollo 11 recovery tours at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. There will also be an interactive robot exhibit courtesy of the NASA Ames Research Center
Along with recovering the astronauts who carried out the first Moon landing, the Hornet recovered the crew of Apollo 12 after the second lunar landing in November 1969.
A registered state and national historic landmark, the USS Hornet is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and permanently berthed at 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3 in Alameda.
For information, go to www.uss-hornet.org or call 510-521-8448.
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.
What: "Blades of Majesty: USS Hornet Celebrates the Legacy of the Sea King," the helicopter that played a key role in the history of the Apollo 11 recovery mission, and a commemoration of the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown. The day's other activities include a performance by the Hornet Band beginning at noon and guided Apollo 11 Recovery Tours at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
When: All-day festivities include 1 p.m. dedication ceremony of the museum's Sikorsky Sea King, which was the recovery plane for the crew of Gemini 4 in 1965 and was also used in the Ron Howard film, "Apollo 13."
Where: USS Hornet, 707 W Hornet Ave., Pier 3.
Information: For more details and ticket prices, go to Volunteer docent Stanley Sun stops in front of the Sikorsky Sea King helicopter as he takes a small group on a tour on the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. The USS Hornet Museum will commemorate the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Splashdown and honor the legacy of the Sea King helicopter on Saturday during the USS Hornet's Living Ship Day. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)