The world sat electrified in front of millions of television sets as grainy black and white imagery recorded and transmitted one of the most sensational events in human history – the first man on the Moon.
The date was 20 July 1969 and the highlight of the Apollo 11 mission was unfolding before an entranced global audience.
Apollo had been launched atop a massive Saturn V rocket on 16 July and had been streaking across space during the following four days, precisely on target for a rendezvous with the Moon. Aboard were the astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, all of whom had undergone intensive training for the mission.
After thirty lunar orbits a highly complicated procedure followed in which the lunar module Eagle separated from the command module Columbia and began its controlled descent towards the lunar surface.
At precisely 20.18 UTC on Sunday July 20th, the lunar module touched down at the so called “Sea of Tranquillity ”, and Armstrong sent the historic message back to Earth: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed”.
After a period of nearly seven hours during which the astronauts prepared their activities, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch, climbed down the ladder and for the first time in history a human being touched the surface of the Moon at 0256 UTC, Monday 21 July.
A television audience of some 600 million watched in awe as he stepped off the ladder and announced “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. He was joined soon after by Aldrin and they then conducted several pre-planned scientific experiments. An American flag was also planted on the surface and samples of the lunar soil were recovered.
The fabulous success of the mission was completed when Armstrong and Aldrin joined Collins back in the lunar module and the three returned to Earth successfully.
The mission left a stainless steel plaque behind on the lunar surface that read:
“Here Men from the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came In Peace For All Mankind”.
Image: A photograph of “Buzz” Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, as taken by Neil Armstrong with a specially designed 70 mm lunar surface camera, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.