After the harnessing of fire, human kind’s greatest achievement is arguably the Apollo XI moon landing in the summer of 1969. As a testament to human endeavour and endless possibilities – like Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo centuries before – JFK famously said in 1962: “we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Continuing in the footsteps of the Mercury and Gemini missions, the Apollo programme had the audacious goal of leaving our planet, landing on another celestial body and safely returning the astronauts to Earth.
And so, 50 years ago today, straddled on top of a Saturn V Rocket (it still remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket that has ever flown), Apollo XI blasted off from Launch Complex 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral), embarking on a 3 day epic voyage to the Moon.
The crew, as in all Apollo missions, was made up of three astronauts: Mission Commander (Neil A. Armstrong), Command Module Pilot (Michael Collins) and Lunar Module Pilot (Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr.). On July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module (Eagle) touched down near Mare Tranquillitatis and six hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first Human to step onto the lunar surface where he pronounced those renowned words: “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
It is fitting that on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo lunar landing, ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano will blast off on Soyuz MS-13 (59S) destination the International Space Station. Parmitano will become the first Italian astronaut and only the third European to command the ISS in October when the crews of Expedition 60/61 swap over.
(all pics courtesy of NASA©)