1969 Moon Landing: One Giant Leap For Mankind
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued one of the most daunting challenges in human history to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration: “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Eight years later, that daring dream was fulfilled on July 20, 1969 as American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans ever to land on the moon.
After Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, Armstrong, Aldrin, and a third astronaut, Michael Collins, traveled nearly 250,000 miles in 76 hours “through the vast emptiness of space, facing the genuine danger that they might miss the moon altogether and find themselves carried out into the void, far beyond any conceivable possibility of rescue,” as explained by historian Wilfred M. McClay. He also adds that the danger “was so high that President Richard Nixon had a speech prepared in case they did not return.”
The Apollo 11 Crew. From left to right, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
One day after entering into a lunar orbit, Collins remained on the command module Columbia, which Armstrong and Aldrin separated from in the lunar module Eagle. At around 4:17 p.m. EDT on July 20, with roughly 30 seconds of fuel remaining, the lunar module touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. As Armstrong radioed back to mission control in Houston, Texas, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong climbed down the module’s ladder. His immortal movements were captured on a television camera attached to the spacecraft, which beamed the signal back to earth. With more than half a billion people watching, Armstrong became the first human to plant his foot on another world, famously declaring, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Original footage of the 1969 moon landing.
Some 19 minutes later, Armstrong was joined by Aldrin. For around two and a half hours, they explored the terrain, took photographs, planted the American flag, and even spoke with President Nixon via telephone-radio transmission.
On that historic night, Armstrong and Aldrin slept in the lunar module on the surface of the moon. By 5:35 p.m. on July 21, the two had made it back to the command module and rejoined Collins. The trio returned home on July 24, landing in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii.
The Apollo 11 command module Columbia splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii on July 24, 1969. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On the surface of the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin left behind “an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs,” according to NASA. The plaque declared, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
History.com: 1969 Moon Landing.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: JFK Addresses Joint Session of Congress May 1961.
Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story by Wilfred M. McClay.
National Archives: A Historic Phone Call.