(SPECTRUM NEWS) – Fifty years ago today, millions of people watched Apollo 11 launch into space from the Kennedy Space Center, sending three American astronauts to the moon.
Aboard Apollo 11 were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. They traveled 240,000 miles in 76 hours to reach the moon. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin separated from the command module and landed lunar module Eagle. A television camera captured Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and his famous quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin joined him as the first people to ever step foot on the moon’s surface, and together they took photos, erected a U.S. flag and ran tests. They left a stainless steel 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 men spent the night on the moon and rejoined Collins in the command module. On July 22, the crew returned home and safely descended in the Pacific Ocean two days later.
There have been six U.S. flags planted on the moon by astronauts from Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Each flag is believed to be standing except the Apollo 11 flag.
The space race is what drove the Apollo missions – for the U.S. to beat the Soviet Union to the moon. Once that was accomplished, the missions were deemed unnecessary considering the cost. The last people to walk on the moon were Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 in 1972. For now, the U.S. is the only country to leave footprints on the moon, sending 12 men from 1969 to 1972.