Today in History: 'One Small Step for a Man.'

July 20, 2017Jul 20, 2017

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” declared Neil Armstrong upon stepping out onto the moon.

He had the honor of being the first human on the moon on July 20th, 1969.

At 10:56 p.m. EDT, more than a billion people listening from Earth heard Armstrong utter the iconic words relates His moon landing was a culmination of President John F. Kennedy’s dream to send a man to the moon. A little over eight years earlier, on May 25, 1961, he appealed a special joint session of Congress for their support. 

“I believe 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 Earth,” declared the president, who would be assassinated before he could see his dream come to fruition.

The race to the moon played a large part in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. At the time that JFK made his plea to Congress, the United States trailed behind the Soviet Union in the space race. For the next eight years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) worked diligently to get an American into space, conducting their first unmanned Apollo mission in 1966.

They persevered through tragedy in 1967 when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket, killing three astronauts in the fire. By July 16, 1969, NASA was ready to send a man to the moon. At 9:32 a.m, the world watched with bated breath as the Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center.

On board were three astronauts, including 38-year-old Neil Armstrong, who traveled 240,000 miles in 76 hours to enter into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 4:18 p.m. the lunar module touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility, and Armstrong famously radioed Houston,

“The Eagle has landed.”

At 10:56 p.m. on July 20th, Armstrong stepped on the moon, fulfilling JFK’s dream and putting Americans on the moon before their Soviet competitors. When they left the following day, the astronauts left a plaque that read:

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.”

On July 24, the mission safely returned to Earth. Five subsequent lunar landings followed this first step for humanity. It was also a step forward for the United States in the Cold War. In 1970, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov wrote an open letter to the Kremlin and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, saying that America’s landing on the moon proved the superiority of Democracy.

On their website, NASA still remembers their victory. They wrote on their website:

“The Soviet Union did have a lunar program intended to put a man on the Moon, but as the world saw, the United States won the race.” 

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