One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind. With these words, astronaut Neil Armstrong opened up the next phase in human exploration by stepping from the Apollo 11 lunar lander onto the surface of the Moon. Joined 20 minutes later by Buzz Aldrin, and watched overhead by designated driver, Michael Collins, this was an event that was watched around the world with absolute admiration.
It was July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC that the lunar module Eagle touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, and six hours later Armstrong set foot on the surface. Along with Aldrin, they spent around 135 minutes walking on the lunar surface and collected a little more than 21 kg of material to return to Earth. Including their time in the module, they spent 21½ hours on the Moon.
The mission to the Moon was called Apollo 11, and started with the launch of a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, on 16 July at 13:32 UTC and was the fifth manned mission of NASA’s Apollo program. The Apollo spacecraft was constructed around three basic parts. A command module was the living and control space for the three astronauts, and was the only part that splashed back down to Earth in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 after more than eight days in space. The service module supplied the command module with power and propulsion, and the lunar module landed on the Moon surface (The Eagle has landed) and returned the two walkers back to the command module.
One of the first major events that was broadcast live around the world, the landing affirmed the United States as the victor in the Space Race against the Soviet Union, after being beaten by the Communist superpower in the race to get a man into orbit some years previously. There were just five further manned landings on the Moon, the last in 1972, and amazingly, there weren’t even any unmanned landings between 1976 and the end of 2013. Conspiracy theories abound about the truth of the landings, of course, most complete nonsense, but it happened and this fantastic achievment will be heavily commemorated this year.