Although it seems like just yesterday the entire world was glued to their television screens or radios as they listened to history being made, today in fact marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took the most memorable steps in history and spoke the words that defined the decade: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And just like that, alongside fellow American astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon.
It all began in 1961 when then-President John F. Kennedy confidently told the public of his goal to fly someone to the moon and have them returned to Earth in one piece. Following that memorable speech, the space race between the US and the Soviet Union kicked off. The two nations were fighting for military domination but, even more so, they craved the bragging rights that came with conquering the uncharted territory.
Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin secured the Soviet Union’s lead in 1961 when he became the first ever person to travel into space, but the US were quick to take the title back when Apollo 8 became the first time any space trip broke through the Earth’s orbit in 1968.
However, it wasn’t until Apollo 11 succeeded in its seemingly impossible mission, that the US finally won the coveted title.
On July 16, NASA used the most powerful rocket in the world to date, the Saturn V, to launch the mission to life. Once the rocket separated from the command module, the three men were on their own.
After covering roughly 363,000km over three full days, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins arrived safely, landing on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the surface while Collins remained in the command module, however trouble struck when Armstrong realised the lunar lander was heading towards a crater that would be difficult to settle on. With under a minute of fuel left, Armstrong was forced to manually direct the module to a safer spot.
Tensions were high in Mission Control back on Earth as they waited for the pair to find a flat area of ground to land on and, as Armstrong finally announced their safe arrival, voices from the radios responded: “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Armstrong spent two and a half hours directly standing on the surface with Aldrin joining him for an hour and a half hour. The pair were set on the moon for a total of 21 and a half hours including their sleep time before they headed home to be welcomed by the masses.
Not wanting to come back empty handed, the pair took home over 22kg of lunar material including moon rocks and samples of the surface as well as plenty of photos and video.
NASA also decided to leave several things as a marker of their presence including the famous American flag, a small silicon disc with microscopic messages engraved from world leaders, a plaque saying “we come in peace for all mankind” and of course, a few special footprints.
These days, space travel isn’t such a far fetched thought with almost every self-made billionaire giving it a go. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are just a few of the companies dedicated to making space travel the next big adventure for everyday people.
And with commercial space travel on the horizon, its safe to say technology has come pretty far since those first, simple footsteps so long ago.