"The Eagle has landed."
With these words, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module touched-down in the Mare Tranquillitatis ("The Sea of Tranquility") on the moon's grey and dusty surface. NASA was meticulously ticking another box—each step a milestone in American (and Humanity's) history, science and knowledge. It happened fifty years ago today.
After 76 hours en route to the moon (some 240,000 miles), three astronauts were just hours away from completing their historic mission: to set human foot upon the moon. Astronaut Michael Collins stayed behind, manning the Command Module "mothership", while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the moon in the Lunar Module (the Eagle) which would spend some 21 hours on the moon's surface. Like the rest of the multi-segment Apollo 11 rocket, the Eagle was made in two parts: a descent stage which powered the landing upon the moon surface (and was left behind), and an ascent stage which got the two men back to the mothership. The descent apparatus still sits on the moon to this day, bearing a plaque which reads: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Fifty years ago today, at 4:17 Eastern Time, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle and took "One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind." Nineteen minutes later, Buzz Aldrin joined his boss outside the lunar module. The two men spent less than three hours outside—planting a flag, taking pictures, disposing of "poo bags"—before climbing back into the part of the Eagle which would return to the Command Module (and, no doubt, an inquisitive Michael Collins).
Four days later (on 24 July), the world watched again as the Lunar Module splashed-down dramatically into the Pacific Ocean. The craft landed upside-down, whereupon inflatable bags were deployed which righted the capsule. Helicopters, deployed from the nearby USS Hornet, soon appeared at the site and divers jumped into the water, followed by life rafts. The module (and the astronauts) were wiped-down with disinfectants as a precaution, just in case they were carrying any pathogens back from the moon. The astronauts spent the next 21 days in quarantine before emerging as enduring national heroes.
It's important to remember that NASA accomplished this tremendous feat 50 years ago—well before the technological advancements which we enjoy today. The scientists were able to foresee and compensate for every possible eventuality, mostly using pencil and paper. And one can not overstate the extraordinary impact this accomplishment had on American culture, its attitude about advancement and its confidence as a leader among nations.
This little bronze Rocketman has never been to the moon. In fact, he's never been outside of Earth's gravitational pull. Nevertheless, he will help you dream of the great beyond while he sits on your desktop or mantelpiece. Click on the photo above to learn more about him.
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