Humans had a breathtaking journey all the way from African deserts to modern cities. All these years, we walked miles, crossed oceans, discovered continents, scaled up mountains, voyaged across the globe and exposed every corner of the earth. But, our journey didn’t end there. We pushed our limits, overthrew the boundaries and finally left the earth’s orbit to enter into the grandeur of infinite space.

Exactly 50 years ago, on this day, July 20, we first walked on the Moon !

It was not even a plausible dream to mankind until the then US president John F. Kennedy, in 1961, challenged NASA to put humans on the Moon in less than 10 years. NASA, in an attempt to dominate Russia in space race, clung to president’s lunar landing challenge. The following years, they worked under Project Gemini to develop technologies and spacecrafts required for the prestigious Apollo program.

NASA’s expedition to the Moon was not at all a red carpet. The first crewed Apollo mission (Apollo 1) ended up in tragedy. All the crew members lost their lives in a fire accident during launching. It was not until Apollo 7, two years later, scientists returned to crewed missions again. With successive trials of Apollo 8, 9 and 10, NASA had achieved one part of the challenge by safely orbiting crew members around the Moon and returning to earth. For the first time, from Apollo 8, astronauts photographed Earthrise view from the Moon, which was something the world had never seen before !

Earthrise view from the Moon, Apollo 8 mission, 1968

Following the success of Apollo 10, NASA prepared for the lunar landing with Apollo 11, carrying three crew members Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Kennedy Space Centre and within three days, it entered into lunar orbit. The next day, Armstrong and Aldrin began the descent through the lunar module Eagle, while Collins orbited in the command module Columbia. On July 20 (4:17 pm EST), in the midst of tensions all over, lunar module successfully landed on the Moon.

Commander Armstrong climbed down the module to make his first step onto the Moon. Before setting up his foot, he quoted these famous words to celebrate the humanity’s greatest triumph.

“That’s one small step for man . . .one giant leap for mankind”

Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969, from the Moon

After 20 minutes, Buzz Aldrin, the second moonwalker, joined him. The duo erected US national flag and had a telephonic conversation with President, Nixon. For the next two and half hours, they took photographs, conducted scientific experiments and collected 21.5 kg of lunar material to bring back to home. After the end of surface operations, Armstrong left behind a memorial patch honouring Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque that reads “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind“. Armstrong and Aldrin then entered Eagle to dock with Columbia. Around 650 million people on earth, watched this spectacular event live on their TVs. Undoubtedly, it was the greatest live video ever in human history.

Three days later, on July 24, 1969, Columbia reached earth, splashing off in the pacific ocean. With the crew’s safe return, Apollo 11 emerged as the first successful lunar mission in history. President Kennedy’s challenge had been met.

It is astonishing that NASA had achieved this feat in 1960s, the time when space technologies were very limited. Apollo‘s victory truly marks the brilliant efforts of hundreds of people whoever engaged in the project. Over the next few years, NASA carried six more Apollo missions to the Moon, adding another ten more astronauts to the list. In 1972, NASA’s lunar program came to an end with Apollo 17.


Today, NASA is fully occupied with deep space explorations. But, they haven’t abandoned the legacy of Apollo. As we approach this 50th anniversary of historic lunar mission, NASA has already started working on its next spaceflight program Artemis. This mission establishes a sustainable presence on the Moon in a decade and sets up a stage for the next giant leap in space – humans visit to Mars !!

~Mani

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