Houston: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it was with these words that Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon 50 years ago, an occasion celebrated by space enthusiasts globally on Saturday.
The era-defining event was watched by more than half a billion people around the world, and represented one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
In the US, its 50th anniversary has revived public enthusiasm for crewed space flight, as NASA charts out new missions to the Moon and on to Mars.
At 4:18pm ET (2018 GMT) on 20 July, 1969, the lunar module carrying Armstrong and crew-mate Buzz Aldrin touched down on the Sea of Tranquility, following a four-day journey. NASA replayed the original CBS footage online.
‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,’ Armstrong said. A little over six hours later, at 10:56pm ET (0256 GMT Sunday), Armstrong climbed out of the lunar module and uttered his immortal words which he later said he thought about during the flight and prior to exiting Eagle.
Aldrin followed about 20 minutes later, exclaiming: ‘Magnificent desolation.’ The pair spent about two-and-a-half hours on the surface, carrying out scientific experiments and collecting samples. “We had the problem of the five-year-old boy in a candy store,” Armstrong would later go to say. “There are just too many interesting things to do.”
In Houston on Saturday night, thousands of space enthusiasts descended upon the visitor area of the NASA Johnson Space Center for a countdown to the “Moonversary,” and watched a giant screen that replayed the iconic moments, before fireworks lit up the sky.
NASA has been in overdrive for several weeks to mark the anniversary, with exhibits and events around the country, including projecting the giant Saturn V rocket and clips from the mission on the Washington Monument.
“Looking back, landing on the moon wasn’t just our job, it was a historic opportunity to prove to the world America’s can-do spirit,” Aldrin, 89, tweeted. Earlier in the day, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech from Cape Canaveral, from where Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins, the third crew member, took off.
All three men were born in 1930, and Armstrong died in 2012.
‘Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century,’ Pence said. NASA has declared its intention to return to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program – the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology – and this time place the first woman on its surface.