By Dennis Mammana- It occurred 50 years ago this week. Nearly everyone alive at the time remembers where they were and what they were doing.
On the evening of Sunday, July 20, 1969, more than a billion people huddled around their televisions to watch the most remarkable event in the history of mankind. It was a moment that humans had dreamt about for thousands of years: the landing of a man on the moon.
On the stark lunar plain known as the Sea of Tranquility sat Eagle, the lunar excursion module (LEM). Inside, pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. performed duties on his checklist. Overhead, 70 miles above the cratered terrain, command module pilot Michael Collins orbited the moon in Columbia — the craft that would eventually return the astronauts to Earth.
But now, with the words “live from the moon” appearing on TV screens, the world watched as commander Neil Armstrong slowly descended the ladder from the LEM. He described the alien moonscape to amazed listeners a quarter of a million miles away. As he descended, hearts around the world pounded faster.
And then, at 10:56 p.m. EDT, Armstrong stepped from the ladder. As his boot touched the powdery soil of our nearest cosmic neighbor, he proudly spoke words that will live forever: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Suddenly, the world erupted with joy. People cheered and shouted, and car horns blared. Our age-old dream had become reality. A man was standing on the moon!
Older adults stared in amazement and recalled memories of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Youngsters watched with wide-eyed excitement and dreamed of making the journey themselves someday.
On the moon, it was silent. Armstrong gazed upward into the black lunar sky at the sparkling blue and white globe he knew as home. This was the world where humans had evolved and learned through the millennia, where wars had been fought, and lives had been lost over property, money and ideas. And it was the world where stargazers of ages past had gazed skyward and dreamed of traveling to the stars.
Since that amazing day in July of 1969, we have learned much about our cosmos and our place in it. We have marveled at close-up photos of asteroids, comets and every planet in our solar system, courtesy of robotic spacecraft whirling through space. We have discovered countless worlds in orbit around distant stars and have peered back in time to nearly the beginning of everything.
And we’ve installed the permanently inhabited International Space Station, on which astronauts from many nations perform environmental and astronomical observations as well as scientific, technological and medical experiments that touch us in ways we rarely consider.
But few of these amazing advances evoke the feelings we had as we watched one of our own plant those first footsteps on another world.
Nearly a century before, Russian space pioneer Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky recognized our need to journey to worlds beyond. “The Earth is the cradle of mankind,” he wrote, “but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” It was on that warm July night that we took our first steps from the cradle.