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32 years since a 'giant leap for mankind'

Armstrong, Aldrin leave footsteps on moon, history

A picture of Earthrise over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts
A picture of Earthrise over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts  

By Thom Patterson

(CNN) -- It was 32 years ago on Friday that two Americans became the first humans to walk on the moon, kicking off a brief three-year period of regular Apollo program voyages to Earth's nearest neighbor.

At 10:56 p.m. EDT, Neil A. Armstrong, 38, of Apollo 11, became the first human to step on the lunar surface, uttering the words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong was supposed to say, "That's one small step for a man," but either Armstrong omitted the word "a" or poor radio transmission didn't register it.

 Apollo 11 timeline
  • Launch: 9:32 a.m. EDT July 16, 1969
  • First moon landing: 4:17 p.m. EDT July 20
  • First step on the moon: 10:56 p.m. EDT July 20
  • Moon walk ends: 1:26 a.m. EDT July 21
  • Lunar liftoff: At about 1 p.m. EDT July 21
  • Splashdown: 12:50 p.m. EDT July 24
    Gallery: Moonwalk anniversary  
    In-Depth: One Giant Leap  

    Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, 39, followed Armstrong 19 minutes later, using the words "magnificent desolation" to mark his place in history.

    During the two hours the astronauts spent on the moon, they had just enough time to deploy a package of experiments that would pave the way for much more sophisticated scientific equipment on future missions.

    Orbiting high above the moon was the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins, 38, whose job it was to monitor lunar activities while waiting -- all alone -- for his crew members' landing vehicle to dock with his command module.

    From Apollo 11 to Apollo 17 -- with the exception of the crippled Apollo 13 mission -- equipment was used to study the Moon's seismic activity, geologic makeup, gravitational field and the solar wind.

    Six missions brought back valuable data and about 400 kilograms -- 181.8 pounds -- of lunar soil and rock.

    Hundreds of millions of people, from students in classrooms to sidewalk window shoppers, watched the moon missions, many in disbelief that such a thing was possible.

    Photographs of footprints on the moon were part of an experiment by Buzz Aldrin to study lunar dust
    Photographs of footprints on the moon were part of an experiment by Buzz Aldrin to study lunar dust  

    On February 5, 1971, a decade after becoming the first American to rocket into space, Alan B. Shepard Jr. went to the moon aboard Apollo 14. During a break in lunar experiments he used a makeshift golf club to smack a golf ball "miles and miles and miles" toward the horizon.

    Apollo 14 also marked the debut of a collapsible two-wheeled cart for carrying equipment and lunar samples.

    Apollo 15 unveiled the Lunar Rover, a collapsible four-wheeled moon-car powered by an electric battery and weighing 460 pounds.

    The final Apollo mission to the moon, 17, included the first scientist-astronaut to make a lunar journey, Harrison H. Schmidtt, a geologist.

    Schmitt and mission commander Eugene A. Cernan were the last people to walk on the moon.

    The Apollo program, begun as a dream of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, climaxed 32 years ago in 1969 with an event so awe-inspiring that it continues to power the imagination of generations of people that followed it.

    In addition to spurring the development of many technological wonders that people still use today, the moon missions caused many people to believe that mankind can accomplish anything, given the right tools and imagination.

    • Apollo 11 - 30th Anniversary
    • NASA Apollo Mission Apollo-11
    • Project Apollo
    • Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
    • NASA Home Page

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