On the 50th anniversary, here’s what happened the first time men walked on the Moon

THE first Moon walk is scheduled to take place ten hours after the Eagle lands.

After enduring 600 nerve-shredding, death-defying seconds descending to the surface, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepare the landing module for take-off in case of trouble.

Michael Light

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing[/caption]

They are under orders to then get some rest.

But Armstrong refuses to sleep. His mind is whirring.

Among other things, he is trying to work out what to say when he becomes the first human to set foot on another world.

“No one seems to have noticed that this is the first properly global media event,” says author Andrew Smith.

“In a future the astronauts can’t yet see, there will be marketeers and spin doctors to help with this sort of thing. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong was on his own.”

People from all over the world have been writing to him with suggestions

Looking out on to a terrain that seems more inviting than hostile, Apollo 11’s commander knows what he says has to be something about “a step”.

People from all over the world have been writing to him with suggestions, with the Bible and Shakespeare the most popular sources of inspiration.

From his PPK — personal preference kit — Buzz Aldrin pulls a small chalice, wafer, sealed plastic container containing communion wine and card with a passage from the Bible.

He pours a small amount of the wine into the chalice and allows it to settle in the Moon’s gravity, one-sixth the strength of Earth’s.

NASA / National Aeronautics and Space Administration

White-hot fire and clouds of smoke fill clear blue skies as Apollo 11 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida at 09:32 EDT on July 16, 1969[/caption]

Michael Light

Film still of the first stage breaking away, 148 seconds after lift-off of unmanned Apollo 6, April 4, 1968[/caption]

He silently reads the words: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Then he says over the radio: “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

Armstrong sits quietly holding his own PPK. It contains some of his wife’s and his mother’s jewellery and a piece of the propeller from the Wright Flyer, the first aeroplane successfully flown by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903.

The astronauts are not totally sure where they are on the Moon.

The guys who said we wouldn’t know where we were won today

Peering through the windows of the lunar module — which they called the LM, pronounced “lem” — Armstrong tries to find an identifiable feature amid mile on mile of dust and rocks.

He finds none and tells Mission Control: “The guys who said we wouldn’t know where we were won today.”

As command module pilot Michael Collins — orbiting 60 miles above the surface — and banks of controllers at Houston try to work out Eagle’s position, Armstrong decides to go for a walk . . . five hours earlier than planned.


Before helping his commander to gently back out of the Eagle’s tunnel on his hands and knees, Aldrin quips: “Are you ready to go down and get some Moon rocks?”

The world is waiting to witness the landing.

At the top of the steps, Armstrong pulls a D-ring and a stowage tray opens like a drawbridge.

On it is a camera that has never worked in training. But here on the Moon, it immediately begins transmitting.

The black and white TV pictures are upside down. Nasa engineers fix the problem so 600million people on Earth can follow every moment.

Eagle’s legs were meant to have compressed on landing but contact had been so gentle that the ladder is three feet short of the surface.

Armstrong has to drop on to the metal footplate below.

Still tethered to the ladder in case the Moon’s surface sucks him in like quicksand, he says: “OK, I’m going to step off the LM now.”

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind

Carefully, he lifts his boot over the lip of the footpad covered in what looks like gold foil and puts his foot on the Moon, leaving an imprint that is still there today.

Then he utters one of the most memorable sentences of all time: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Walter Cronkite, the legendary American TV anchor, sheds tears live on air as he proclaims: “Boy, look at those pictures! Neil Armstrong, a 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the Moon.”

Before stepping out of the Eagle, Aldrin lowers a camera for Armstrong to take 70mm still pictures.

But while Columbia’s commander is snapping away, Houston nags him to collect “contingency samples” from the Moon’s surface in case of an emergency take-off.

Michael Light

A ghostly aura surrounds Alan Bean as he carries out experiments during Apollo 12, Nov 1969. The blue glow, not noticed by the astronauts, was thought to be ice crystals of water-vapour from the boiler in his backpack[/caption]

NASA / National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Buzz Aldrin takes scientific equipment from storage on the Eagle, July 20, 1969[/caption]

Michael Light

Aldrin with a seismometer to test the composition of the Moon and a laser to measure distances to Earth[/caption]

NASA / National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Footprints of Armstrong and Aldrin surround the Stars & Stripes by the lunar module. The flag blew over when the Eagle took off[/caption]

At just after 4.10am UK time, Aldrin leaves the capsule, part-closing the hatch and joking: “Being careful not to lock it on my way out.”

At home in Houston, Aldrin’s wife Joan — sitting next to Michael Collins’ partner Pat — leans forward to the TV and blows kisses to her husband.

Next the astronauts unveil a plaque attached to one of the Eagle’s legs, which will be left on the Moon when the men blast off a few hours later.


With a fifth of the world’s population tuning in, Armstrong reads the words: “Here, men from the planet Earth first set foot on the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Their next job is to plant the Stars and Stripes on the Moon, something they had never rehearsed in training.

Pushing the pole into the surface is harder than anyone imagined and they manage to force it only a few inches into the ground.

Held out on wire, the flag appears to flutter in the airless atmosphere. Armstrong takes a photo of Aldrin saluting it.

The only person unable see the ceremony is Michael Collins in Columbia, which no one had thought to fit with a TV.

“How’s it going?” he asks. Houston tells him that the US flag is up. Collins replies: “Beautiful, just beautiful.” Shortly after, another voice bursts on to the airwaves.

“Hello Neil and Buzz, I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Office at the White House . . . for one priceless moment, in the history of Man, all the people on this Earth are truly one.”

One in their pride in what you have done. And one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth

While Armstrong had chosen his famous line in a few snatched moments, America’s best speech writers had spent hours on President Richard Nixon’s words.

He continues: “One in their pride in what you have done. And one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

Unknown to the men on the Moon, Nixon also has in his pocket a speech his writers had prepared in case the mission went disastrously wrong.

It reads: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest there in peace.

“These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope of their recovery . . . ”

Making sure Nixon would never have to read out that letter was Collins’ main pre-occupation as he orbited 60 miles above the surface in Columbia, travelling at 3,700 miles an hour.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope of their recovery

Although he had rehearsed flying home on his own, Collins spent many of the 21.5 hours Armstrong and Aldrin were on the Moon going over in his mind how to drop Columbia to just 50,000ft to pick them up in an emergency.

For now, the two astronauts concentrated on making the most of their remaining two hours on the Moon, taking more photos and collecting rocks.

Armstrong’s Hasselblad camera produced amazing high-resolution colour photos from Aldrin’s Moon walk.

The protective layer on the visor that shields the astronaut’s eyes from the direct light of the sun glows vivid gold in the pictures.

Although in reality they were as black as coalmen from powdery Moon dust, Aldrin’s suit gleamed white against the lunar surface.


Remarkably, Buzz has taken no photos of Armstrong on the Moon, which Nasa chiefs later describe as “unacceptable”.

All the pictures of Armstrong are taken by a camera on a six-foot pole the pair had managed to stake into the ground.

It is now nearly 6am in Britain and after two hours the Moon walk is over.

When Aldrin reaches the top of the ladder he throws down a pouch containing a patch from the Apollo 1 mission in which three astronauts died, a silicon disc etched with microscopic goodwill messages from 73 nations, a gold badge in the shape of an olive branch, and medals given to Nasa by the widows of two Soviet cosmonauts.

Vladimir Komarov had been killed returning to Earth in 1967 and Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit in space, died in a plane crash in 1968.

One-sixth gravity allows Armstrong to leap six feet on to the third rung of the ladder as they prepare to return.

To lighten Eagle for lift-off, the men throw out empty food packages, a spare Hasselblad camera, their boots and backpacks.

Michael Light

At 41 miles above Earth, Apollo 11’s Saturn V sheds its first stage in a plume of smoke and fire, July 16, 1969. The moment was captured from a US Air Force chase plane at 40,000ft[/caption]

Michael Light

A snap of Charles Duke and his family at home in Houston, which he left on the Moon, April 1972[/caption]

Mike Gentry/NASA Johnson

President Nixon speaks with the Apollo 11 crew on recovery aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The astronauts were kept in quarantine for three weeks[/caption]

President Nixon declares a bank holiday in the US but in Britain viewers who have been up all night begin arriving at work.

Aboard the Eagle, the astronauts are about to settle down to sleep when Aldrin notices a circuit-breaker switch that is meant to send power to the engine for lift-off is broken.

They report the problem to Houston and then bed down to try to sleep in freezing temperatures.

Just after 6.30pm UK time, Ronald Evans at Mission Control announces: “You’re cleared for take-off.”

Aboard the Eagle, Armstrong and Aldrin, who have been on the Moon for just over 21 hours, are concerned Houston has not come up with a solution to the problem of the broken circuit-breaker.

In desperation, Aldrin pushes a felt-tip pen with a chrome body in the hole to complete the broken circuit. But if the ascent engine fails to fire they are doomed.

Aldrin counts down: “nine, eight, seven, six, five . . . proceed.”


After a heart-beat sized pause, Eagle’s ascent engine fires, generating just 3,500lb of thrust — but it is enough for lift-off. The felt pen has worked.

Explosive bolts release the ascent stage section from the landing gear, leaving the legs on the surface of the Moon as the Eagle takes off.

Through the window, Aldrin watches the American flag fall over.

Down on Earth, Joan Aldrin sinks to the floor, hiding tears with her hands. The other astronauts’ families also cry with relief.

Just under four hours later, Collins opens the hatch and is about to kiss Aldrin when he thinks better of it and shakes his hand. Both astronauts are still covered in Moon dust.

Collins says later: “I couldn’t have made them more welcome unless I’d had a fireplace.”

Getty – Contributor

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins at Kennedy Space Center on Jan 1, 1969, six months before their mission. Apollo 11’s Saturn V rocket looms behind them[/caption]

NASA / National Aeronautics and Space Administration

‘Task Accomplished’ message on screen as celebrations begin at Mission Control, Houston[/caption]

Three days later, the heroes from the Moon are winched aboard the USS Hornet after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

And during three weeks in quarantine, Apollo 11’s crew watch video tapes of the Moon mania happening on Earth.

Aldrin turns to Armstrong and says: “Neil, we missed the whole thing.”

Source: thesun
On the 50th anniversary, here’s what happened the first time men walked on the Moon