Historic anniversaries come and go, but the anniversary celebrated on July 16 (and more importantly, on July 20) is one of the defining moments of humanity. The first mission to the moon was a benchmark in American innovation, determination and engineering achievement. The decade leading up to the July 16, 1969 launch of Apollo 11 was fraught with failures, catastrophic malfunctions and loss of life. But, it was also a time for intense scientific research and development, and that research lead to Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins to a new frontier — the Moon.
The three men lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 9:32 a.m. EDT and spent the next few days traversing the nearly 240,000 miles, between the Earth and the Moon. Once there, they entered lunar orbit and prepared to make the first moon landing.
On July 20, Aldrin and Armstrong climbed into the lunar landing module, called “Eagle”, and started their decent down to the lunar surface. Eagle landed in the “Sea or Tranquility” at 4:18 p.m. EDT and at 10:56 p.m., Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface and uttered this historic phrase: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin soon followed, and he and Armstong spent a couple of hours exploring the Moon. They collected specimens — for later analysis — and took photos of the lunar surface during their out-of-this-world excursion.
As the pair departed the moon, they left an Apollo 11 mission patch and plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” The memorial was to honor the loss of the Apollo 1 crew, who died in a fire after a failed rehearsal launch in February 1967.
The three-man crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean — just off the coast of Hawaii — on July 24, completing the historic mission that brought the crew rock star-like fame.
Five more missions successfully landed on the moon, until the completion of the Apollo program — with Apollo 17 — in December 1972.