Thirty-eight years ago today, we took our first literal steps towards the heavens, as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their small, flimsy craft on the surface of the moon.
Apollo 11 (astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins) took off from Cape Canaveral on July 16th on it’s historic mission, and a few days later, after a 240 thousand mile journey, arrived in orbit around the moon. Leaving Collins in the service module, Armstrong and Aldrin left in their Lunar Module for the surface of the small, rocky world 60 miles below them.
Not all went smoothly, as there were several problems along the way. But at 4.18pm EDT on July 20, 1969, mission control in Houston heard these words from space…
Contact light! O.K., engine stop…
Descent engine command override off…
Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
And with those words, two people from the planet Earth were sitting on the Moon, on the Sea of Tranquility.
Hours later, at 10.56pm EDT, Neil Armstrong made his way down the ladder of the craft, stepped onto the lunar surface, and uttered the now-famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” thus beginning the human exploration of the moon.
Armstrong and Aldrin only spent a few hours outside the LM (2.5 hours in all) and not even a whole day sitting on the surface, but they both ended a journey that began with John Kennedy’s famous statement in 1961, and started a journey that would see 10 more humans walk on the moon’s surface over the next three years.
In an interesting bit of trivia, Armstrong and Aldrin received a phone call from President Nixon while they were on the moon. Nixon said that is was”the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”
From his daily Diary, it states “The President held an interplanetary conversation with Apollo Astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the Moon.”
Regarding the phone call, when President Nixon visited the astronauts in their quarantine when they arrived back on earth, he quipped to them “That was a collect call, by the way.”
Here are some links to information about the mission:
Apollo 11 History from NASA
Apollo 11 Mission from Kennedy Space Center
Apollo 11 – Reminiscing About July 20, 1969 (Local Angle)
In an interesting astronomical twist, tonight’s moon is in nearly the same place in the sky, and also about the same phase as it was in 1969. In addition, the planet Jupiter is nearby, just like back then.
Tonight’s sky at 10.56pm
The sky on July 20, 1969
The good news is that even though there has not been a human presence on the moon since December of 1972, there are plans to return. And who knows? Perhaps a young person reading this, or someone you know, will be one of those lucky explorers.
So if you have a chance tonight, go on out and look up at the moon, and imagine the sense of wonder just as others have over the years, hoping for a chance to set foot on another world.