“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
These were the immortal words spoken by Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 43 years ago.
This momentous and historic event was watched by millions of viewers all over the world. The Apollo 11 mission was launched by a Saturn V rocket on the 16th July, carrying 3 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. Sitting right on top of the 110-metre high, three stage booster was the cramped Command Module (Columbia) that was to be their living quarters for the next 8 days. Beneath this were the Service Module (which provided propulsion, electrical power and consumables) and the Lunar Module (Eagle). These three modules, joined together, would make the journey to the Moon and enter orbit.
On the 20th July, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the Lunar Module,undocked, and descended to the Moon’s surface in the Sea of Tranquillity, whilst Collins remained in the orbiting Command Module. The safety of the astronauts was foremost, as soon as they had landed, an emergency procedure was put on standby, ready to lift off at a moment’s notice. The minimum required aim of the mission was to collect soil samples and photograph the lunar landscape. When Armstrong emerged from the module he was able to release the MESA television camera to record his historic footsteps. As activities went according to plan, Armstrong was later joined by Aldrin and the two carried out a number of meteorological and geological activities. One remains in use to this day, the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment which accurately measures distance between Earth and the Moon.
The two astronauts successfully launched on schedule and docked with the Command Module for an uneventful return to Earth. The astronauts had spent less than a day on the moon and of that period, just 2 ½ hours actually walking on the surface. The Command Module was the only portion of the spacecraft to return to Earth. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean occurred on July 24th 1969. The three astronauts were quarantined for 21 days as a precautionary measure.
The astronauts were global heroes and this historic feat in the Space Race meant that the United States space research investment programme had reached its zenith.