31 Days of History: 21 July

On this day in 1969, 40 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to walk on the Moon (it should be noted that they actually landed on the moon on the evening of the 20th, but it took 6.5 hours to prepare for the walk, so that actually puts his foot touching the moon surface at 4:56 AM on the 21st!)

The Apollo 11 mission was the first manned mission to land on the Moon (and the 11th of 17 flights in the Apollo program). Apollo 11 had launched four days earlier on 16 July 1969, it carried Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin.

The crew of Apollo 11:
Neil Armstrong (l), Michael Collins (c) and Buzz Aldrin (r)

The mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s. In a speech given before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy said: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

After Armstrong climbed out of the lunar module, he stepped into history as the first human to set foot on another world. It was then that he uttered his famous line "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind". Aldrin joined him, describing the view as "Magnificent desolation."

They took some photos, planted a US flag, collected some soil samples, walked around a bit and even made a phone call to President Nixon at the White House!

After a seven hour nap, they took off from the moon and began their trip back to Earth.

Here are a couple of famous images from the flight:

President Nixon visits the Apollo 11 crew in their quarantine vehicle onboard the USS Hornet; 24 July 1969

The Lunar Module, with Aldrin in the foreground

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

After the lunar module had touched down, but before Armstrong set foot on the moon, Aldrin took a moment to celebrate communion. He had kept the plan quiet (not even mentioning it to his wife) and did not reveal it publicly for several years after (Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas and his “communion kit” was prepared by the pastor of the church. The cup he used was given to the church, and they celebrate “Lunar Communion” each year on the Sunday closest to July 20.)

The National Air and Space Museum holds approximately 17,000 space artifacts in its collection and 400 objects are from Apollo 11. The collection runs the entire spectrum, from the large

The Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia

to the small

A spoon from the Apollo 11 flight

to the obscure

Michael Collins' toothbrush

to the “I-really-didn’t-need-to-see-that”

Part of the Urine Retrieval System(r)

You can see them all on your next visit to DC.

Armstrong salutes the US flag

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