The words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were spoken on this day in 1969, as Neil Armstrong effectively declared the end to the decades-long “space race.” The Apollo II mission was carried out 54 years ago today, a feat years in the making and completed under the immense pressure of the watchful eyes of the nation. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon. With the help of Michael Collins, the three men completed the first successful voyage to put man on the moon.
Launching from Cape Kennedy, Armstrong, Aldin, and Collins left the Earth’s atmosphere on July 16, 1969. Amazingly, the mission was completed with only three men to fulfill the tasks required while in space: Neil Armstrong was the Commander of the mission, Buzz Aldrin was the Lunar Module Pilot, and Michael Collins was the Command Module Pilot. After nearly 110 hours spent orbiting the moon, a lunar module brought Armstrong and Aldrin down to the moon’s surface. Four hours after landing the lunar module, Armstrong left the vehicle and Aldrin followed shortly after. In the short span of two-and-a-half hours, Aldrin and Armstrong collected scientific data and samples from the moon's surface and placed commemorative markers upon the moon. In addition to placing the commemorative plaques, Aldrin took on the task of documenting the conditions of the moon’s surface through photographs; eventually compiling them in his book, Magnificent Desolation, designated for public consumption.
The Apollo 11 mission was considered to be one of the greatest achievements in American history, as it was a tangible culmination of American efforts in science, politics, and plain human bravery. The space race was no laughing matter, claiming lives in the Apollo 1 mission that had tragically ended with the loss of three men. Choosing to honor those who had fallen, Aldrin and Armstrong carried on the legacy by leaving an Apollo 1 patch on the moon to commemorate the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. In addition to the Apollo 1 patch, commemorative medallions with the names of Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin were also left to honor their competitors.
The plaque commemorating the success of the American efforts states: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." This quote serves as a reminder to future generations of the collaborative efforts that produced such a momentous event, and that throughout great times of strife can come great achievements.
After a total of 21 hours spent on the surface of the moon and a grand total of 195 hours spent outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins returned home safely with the help of countless others and innumerable hours of dedication.
Once home, the first moonwalkers released their own accounts of the preparations and process of the mission under the published title First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. As their book title suggests, the first trip to the moon was a tumultuous voyage, but it forever will be remembered as a milestone in the history of the United States and its achievements.