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Apollo 11’s giant leap

The crew of the Apollo 11 mission: Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot.
Credit: NASA
The crew of the Apollo 11 mission: Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot.
  • The crew of the Apollo 11 mission: Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot.
  • Buzz Aldrin climbing down the lunar module ladder.
  • Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon.
  • Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint
  • Earthrise seen from lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 crew.
Apollo 11’s giant leap

There are events of such importance that they’re inscribed forever in the history books. The Apollo 11 mission and the first steps on the Moon belong squarely in that category.

On July 20, 1969, the race to the Moon reached a conclusion when the United States succeeded in landing a spacecraft on the surface of our natural satellite. At 11: 56 p.m., Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on a celestial body other than the Earth, speaking that famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It’s estimated that over 600 million people followed the event live, meaning one person out of every six living on our planet at the time.

Above and beyond the technological feat, the Apollo 11 mission had numerous impacts on people who witnessed it.

The spinoffs of the race to the Moon

There were first of all the scientific benefits. Analysis of lunar-rock samples brought back during the Apollo missions enabled astronomers to precisely determine the age of the Moon. A theory explaining the Moon’s formation also grew out of those studies. Our satellite is thought to have been created by the ejection of debris when a massive body collided with the Earth at the very beginning of our planet’s history. That remains the model of the Moon’s formation most accepted by planetologists to this day.

The Apollo missions also entailed the emergence of an environmental awareness. In moving a sufficient distance away from the Earth, astronauts were able to photograph our planet in its entirety. We realized just how beautiful our planet is, but at the same time how fragile. In that light, the picture of Earthrise taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts is considered one of the most memorable photographs of the 20th century.

The inspiration for an entire generation

But more than anything, that event allowed so many people to dream, even inciting some to build a career in a related field. As it happens, one of those people was me. I was five years old when Armstrong walked on the lunar surface. For the occasion, my mother allowed me to stay up late so that I could watch those small steps live. I stayed glued to the TV set until the astronauts returned to Earth, on July 24.

From that point I wanted to become an astronaut and travel to the Moon myself. As time went by I grew interested in astronomy, and developed a new passion, one not far removed from space exploration. And now, every day my dream comes true through being an astronomer at the Planétarium and having the chance to share the wonderful worlds of astronomy and space exploration with you.

My hope today is that there’ll be other projects like the Apollo missions, inspiring future generations the way those inspired me.

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