On July 20, 1969, fifty years ago, over 650 million people around the world watched the Moon landing live on television, according to NASA, and were entranced at the idea of Neil Armstrong taking his historic first steps, 234,000 miles away on the Moon. President Kennedy’s promise, made in 1961, of putting an American on the surface of the moon came full circle when America landed the Eagle module on the Sea of Tranquility launching the United States as the leader in the Great Space Race.
During the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the moon landing, Armstrong felt that, “the important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” Now, at fifty years later, Armstrong’s steps on the moon remain the iconic moment of the Apollo missions.
The Apollo program was the third “human spaceflight” program instituted by NASA and six of these missions achieved the goal of landing humans on the moon, (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17). From these landings, almost 900 pounds of lunar samples were collected. Experiments on the Apollo missions varied from solar wind experiments to soil mechanics, lunar mapping and magnetic fields according to NASA.
After the four-day trip that started with a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the three men arrived at their destination. At 1:47 pm EDT, the lunar module, known as “The Eagle” separated from the command module and began its descent onto the surface. Besides Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Aldrin, Jr. were also on board the historic Apollo 11 flight. Aldrin was the second man to reach the lunar surface, and Collins remained on board the command module known as, “Columbia.” At 4:18 pm EDT, the flight crew touched down, and the astronauts notified that “the Eagle has landed.” At 10:56 pm EDT, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon’s surface, and he uttered the famous expression, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joined his counterpart on the moon nineteen minutes later.
The footprints that day are locked onto the lunar surface and have left an indelible mark and barring an impact with an asteroid, could last “for millions of years,” according to NASA. Photographs of the footprints were taken by Aldrin as “a planned experiment” by Astronaut Aldrin, “to study the nature of lunar dust and the effects of pressure on the surface.” President Nixon even called the two astronauts from the Oval Office to congratulate the pair on reaching the surface of the Moon, and many proclaim that it is the “most historic phone call ever made.”
The astronauts returned to the lunar module over 2 hours after their initial landing and made their rendezvous with the command module. Their descent back to the blue planet was imminent. The final part of Kennedy’s promise was realized at 12:50 pm EDT on July 24, 1969 when Columbia made waves southwest of Hawaii, returning the three sojourners back to the Earth. For over three weeks, the astronauts remained quarantined after their transfer to the USS Hornet.
During a press conference during the thirtieth anniversary, Armstrong quipped, “There’s a compelling reason for society to go back to the Moon,” and he hoped that we would return for, “I left a few things up there.” Armstrong during the same conference said that he felt that the astronauts had a “fifty percent chance of making a landing” and a, “ninety percent chance of making it back safely.” We celebrate the success of these brave astronauts today. The planted American flag, along with the plaque that accompanied the astronauts as reminders for this journey and will remain stating, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.”