Neil Armstrong steps into history July 20, 1969 by leaving the first human footprint on the surface of the moon. (NASA/Newsmakers)

Fifty years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.

His immortal line: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ have been etched into the history books as permanently as his bootprint on the dusty surface of the Sea of Tranquillity.

Armstrong was joined by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin on the lunar surface whilst Michael Collins, the third member of Nasa’s Apollo 11 mission orbited above. After two hours on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins and the three returned to Earth.

In the intervening half-century between then and now, only ten other men have accomplished the feat of walking on the moon. The last time anyone did so was in 1972, just three years after Apollo 11.

What was the Apollo 11 mission?

Spectators wave an American flag as Apollo 11 begins its journey to the Moon (University Press of Florida)

Nasa’s Apollo missions were a direct result of a ‘space race’ with the Soviet Union which was sparked after the latter launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy became president and the Soviets celebrated the first ever manned flight into space. The Americans felt they were falling behind technologically and that prompted the new president to pledge that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

To achieve this, the US government devoted billions and billions of dollars to Nasa, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Those dollars went towards the Apollo program, a series of launches with the aim of putting humans on the moon.

Who were the Apollo 11 astronauts?

Left to right, are Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot (NASA/Newsmakers)

Neil Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot and former Navy aviator, was joined by Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Armstrong joined Nasa’s astronaut program in 1962 and was named commander of the mission.

Buzz Aldrin was a 39-year-old US Air Force pilot. Footage from the moon’s surface shows Aldrin saluting the American flag, something that he says meant a lot to him as a serving member of the US military.

Meanwhile, Michael Collins, 39, was selected as the command module pilot. He has already been in space by the time of Apollo 11 and was tasked with piloting the command module in the moon’s orbit while the others walked on the moon.

Apollo 11: How the mission unfolded

Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin (left to right) pose for news photographers as the Saturn V towers behind them a couple of months before launch. (University Press of Florida)

Apollo 11 took off from its launch pad in Cape Kennedy, Florida at 9.32am EDT (1.32am GMT). The command and lunar module were mounted to the top of a Saturn V rocket – which remains the most powerful rocket ever built.

The power from the rocket launch in the first two minutes alone produced 3.4 million kilograms of thrust. It drank twenty tonnes of fuel per second to break free from Earth’s atmosphere.

This photo obtained was taken by the Apollo 11 crew and shows an Earthrise viewed from lunar orbit prior to landing on July 20, 1969 (AFP)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Once separated, the command module Colombia flew on towards the moon where the lunar module – Eagle – separated to make the descent. At 4.16pm on July 20, after more than 100 hours of travel, the lunar module touched down. That gave us the famous phrase: “the Eagle has landed.”

Armstrong landed the module manually to avoid a last second collision with a crater. The astronauts were down to their last 60 seconds of fuel when the landing took place.

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong spent two hours walking on the surface (NASA)

He stepped foot on the moon at preciously

After their two hour Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) on the moon’s surface, which included collecting lunar rock samples and planting the US flag, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the lunar module and rested.

The pair blasted off from the moon after 21 hours and 31 minutes on the lunar surface and rejoined Collins in the command module. The lunar module was then jettisoned and the crew began their flight back to Earth.

They successfully re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean at 12.50pm on July 24.

How many moon landings have followed?

There have been many unmanned missions to the moon, but only a few crewed ones – all from the US (Visme)

After the Apollo 11 mission, Nasa only made five more successful manned lunar landings. These were made between 1969 and 1972, with the last people to land on the moon being Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt who flew on Apollo 17.

Who has walked on the moon?

These are all the astronauts that have walked on the moon:

  • Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11, 1969
  • Buzz Aldrin – Apollo 11, 1969
  • Pete Conrad – Apollo 12, 1969
  • Alan Bean – Apollo 12, 1969
  • Alan Shepard, Apollo 14, 1971
  • Edgar Mitchell – Apollo 14, 1971
  • David Scott – Apollo 15, 1971
  • James Irwin – Apollo 15, 1971
  • John Young – Apollo 16, 1972
  • Charles Duke – Apollo 16, 1972
  • Gene Cernan – Apollo 17, 1972
  • Harrison Schmitt – Apollo 17, 1972
China has recently landed on the far side of the moon and says it plans to go back (Visme)

Will we go back to the moon?

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine says that the agency will return to the moon (Reuters)

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine has pledged to land a female astronaut on the moon in five years’ time as part of a new programme called Artemis.

He said that seeing the first woman land on the moon will inspire a new generation of young girls to work in the space industry. Bridenstine said the history of moon landings shows little opportunities were offered to women, but described the current crop of astronauts as ‘very diverse’.

The space agency administrator was speaking after US President Donald Trump announced an additional 1.6 billion dollars to go towards accelerating the lunar programme.

Speaking at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC on Tuesday, Mr Bridenstein said: ‘I have an 11-year-old daughter and I want her to be able to see herself in the same way that our current very diverse astronaut corps sees itself.’

‘And if we look at the history of moon landings, it was test pilots from the 1960s and 1970s, fighter pilots, and there were no opportunities for women back then.

‘This programme is going to enable a new generation of young girls like my daughter to see themselves in a way that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise see themselves.’

How the future of space travel is shaping up (Visme)

Mr Bridenstine has previously said Mr Trump’s desire to put humans back on the moon by the year 2024 would provide an opportunity to test technology and capabilities before carrying out a mission to land on Mars by 2033.

He told the summit: ‘What we are trying to do is create as much of the architecture as possible so that it can be replicated for our eventual human mission to Mars.’

‘So again, we are accelerating the path to get to the moon. We want to be there, no kidding, by 2024.’





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