NASA successfully landed a spacecraft and two men on the Moon on the evening of July 20, 1969. Hailed the greatest technological achievement of the 20th century, the Moon landing sealed America’s victory in the Cold War Space Race. The monumental mission saw astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin fly to the Moon and back. But it was only Commander Armstrong and Aldrin who touched down on the Moon’s surface.
Command Module Pilot Collins watched the lunar landing unfold from the safety of Apollo 11’s Columbia spacecraft.
If the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) had to abort its landing mid-flight, Collins would have been the only way for Armstrong and Aldrin to safely get back home.
And for a while it seemed as though the Eagle would not land when alarm bells blared, the LM dropped too fast and the spacecraft was headed a towards a boulder-filled crater.
Ultimately, Armstrong took manual control of the spacecraft, guiding it to safety by ignoring all warning signs from the onboard computer.
NASA said: “When the lunar module lands at 4.18pm EDT (9.18pm BST), only 30 seconds of fuel remain.
“Armstrong radios ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.’”
What did Neil Armstrong say on the Moon?
There is some debate about the exact phrase spoken by the US astronauts but his words captured the imagination of millions.
That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind
Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11
After Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, they spent around six hours inside of the LM before leaving the spacecraft.
It was crucial – especially after their thrilling ride down – the LM could fly back into lunar orbit to rendezvous with the Columbia and Collins.
At around 3.56am BST on July 21 (10.56pm EDT on July 20) the two astronauts began to exit the LM.
With an estimated 600 million people watching the televised moment around the globe, Commander Armstrong climbed down the spacecraft’s ladder.
He said: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For a long time after the Moon landing, people have asked whether the astronaut said “a” before “man”.
The single word itself is not discernible from the Moon landing recording but Commander Armstrong was adamant he said it.
Regardless, the astronaut alongside Collins and Aldrin has cemented his position in the history books.
NASA said: “Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps.
“Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission leaves the lunar surface with these words: ‘We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.’”
NASA landed a total of 12 men on the Moon between 1969 and 1972.
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