Man on the Moon

Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and made history. VIEW OUR GALLERY of triumphant space moments, our big fat story on where our space program will head next, recollections of Apollo 11, and much more.

NASA, Liaison / Getty Images

View Our Gallery of Amazing Moments in Space

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Gallery: Casting the Apollo 11 Movie

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BFS: Should We Go to Mars?

As the 40th anniversary of the moon landing approaches, one of the original moonwalkers, Buzz Aldrin, wants us to go to Mars. The Daily Beast on where Obama’s sending us next—pack your bags.

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The $1,000 Coffee Table Book

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Taschen is releasing an art book whose ambition is worthy of the original event itself. VIEW OUR GALLERY.

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Hubble's Astounding Photos

Astronauts tinkered with the People’s Telescope this week. VIEW OUR GALLERY of star explosions, death-star galaxies, and stunning images taken by the 19-year-old wonder.

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The moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon is etched in most people’s memories as a brief snippet of video. The preparation on the moon for that first fateful step actually lasted much longer.

Immediately, they prepared to leave. This was NASA being cautious. No one had ever landed on the Moon before. What if a footpad started sinking into the moondust, or the Eagle sprung a leak? While Neil and Buzz made ready to blast off, Houston read the telemetry looking for signs of trouble. There were none, and three hours after touchdown, finally, Houston gave the “okay.” The moonwalk was on.

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Armstrong’s words became a slogan for space exploration. Though not nearly as famous, Buzz Aldrin made a few poetic comments, as well.

“Beautiful view!” he exclaimed when he reached the lander’s broad footpad. “Isn’t that something!” agreed Armstrong. “Magnificent sight out here.”

“Magnificent desolation,” said Aldrin.

Those two words summed up the yin-yang of the Moon. The impact craters, the toppled boulders, the layers of moondust—it was utterly alien. Yet Tranquillity Base felt curiously familiar, like home. Apollo astronauts on subsequent missions had similar feelings. Maybe this comes from staring at the Moon so often from Earth. Or maybe it’s because the Moon is a piece of Earth, spun off our young planet billions of years ago. No one knows; it just is.

Stephen Hawking says in the introduction to a new book commemorating the Apollo 11 Anniversary that now is the time to redouble efforts toward space exploration.

In a way, the situation was like that in Europe before 1492. People might well have argued that it was a waste of money to send Christopher Columbus on a wild goose chase. Yet, the discovery of the New World made a profound difference to the old. Sending humans to the moon may yet prove to have had an even greater effect. It changed the future of the human race in ways that we don’t yet understand and may have determined whether we have any future at all. It hasn’t solved any of our immediate problems on planet Earth, but it has given us new perspectives on them and caused us to look both outward and inward.

...What are the possible sites of a human colony in the solar system? The most obvious is the moon. It is close by and relatively easy to reach. As illustrated in this publication, we have already landed on it and driven across it in a buggy. On the other hand, the moon is small and without an atmosphere or a magnetic field to deflect solar radiation. There is no liquid water, but there may be ice in the craters at the north and south poles. A colony on the moon could use this as a source of oxygen, with power provided by nuclear energy or solar panels. The moon could become a base for travel to the rest of the solar system.

...There are approximately a thousand stars within thirty light years of Earth. If 1 percent of each had Earth-size planets in a Goldilocks Zone, (where the requirements for life are “just right) we would have ten candidate new worlds. We cannot reach them with current technology but we should make interstellar exploration a long-term aim. By long term, we mean over the next two hundred to five hundred years, and by exploration, we mean with humans.

The human race has existed as a separate species for about two million years. Civilization began about ten thousand years ago, and the rate of scientific and technological development has been steadily increasing. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.

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The Daily Kos makes a similar call to action.

In WW2, as American troops participated in the final rush towards Berlin to end the Nazi Empire, American soldiers, looking around them at the enormous resources and energy being focused on this goal, were heard to remark: “if only we could put this amount of effort into making our country better at home.”

The anniversary of the Moon landing should remind us all of the great things we Americans working together collectively can accomplish if we put our minds to it.

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Not everyone saw the breakthrough as a groundbreaking moment, Krushchev’s son, Sergei, recalls a carefully engineered shrugging-of-the-shoulders by the USSR upon hearing of the lunar landing.

Of course, you cannot have people land on the moon and just say nothing. It was published in all the newspapers. But if you remember [back then] when Americans spoke of the first man in space, they were always talking of “the first American in space” [not Yuri Gagarin]. The same feeling was prevalent in Russia. There were small articles when Apollo 11 was launched. Actually, there was a small article on the first page of Pravda and then three columns on page five. I looked it up again.

...It was very similar to feeling among Americans when Gagarin (the first man to go into space) went into orbit. Some of them tried to ignore it, some of them were insulted. But I don’t think it had a strong popular effect. First of all, the Soviet propaganda did not play it up or give too much information. I remember I watched a documentary on this. It was not secret, but it was not shown to the public. The Russian people had many problems in day-to-day life, they were not too concerned about the first man on the moon.

But overall, the lunar landing was indeed a global event. The New York Times reporter covering the story, John Noble Wilford, recalled the pride that swept across the world.

In the 2007 documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” (Collins) said: “People, instead of saying, ‘Well, you Americans did it,’ everywhere they said: ‘We did it!’ We, humankind, we, the human race, we, people did it!” The inclusiveness of the experience was remarkable, given the space race’s origins in an atmosphere of fear and belligerence.

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Nostalgia remains high for the Apollo 11 excursion, as evidenced by the lofty price that memorabilia will fetch at an upcoming auction.

The lunar landing sequence, which has never been seen before by the public, provided step-by step instructions to U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they guided the Eagle landing craft onto the lunar surface in July 1969.

Each page of the document is inscribed and signed by Aldrin, pushing its value to an estimated $175,000.

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Armstrong’s first step on the moon is truly a “where were you when...” moment. Live Science has compiled a few memories from that history-making event.

“I remember my mother scolding me for not giving the Apollo landing my undivided attention. “Don’t you realize history is being made?!” she said.”

“My main memory of Apollo 11 is of staying awake until about 4 am (UK time,) just before Armstrong stepped down the ladder and waiting for the action to begin on an ancient black-and-white tv set—then dosing off and missing it by about 5 mins ... !”

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And from the Daily Kos:

I remember standing beside people watching this on the street, all of us looking into the store windows where the television showed the grainy images. When it happened, we all just turned to each other with a similar look of wonder on our faces, a smile and shaking of heads. Some even shook hands, hippies and people in suits together.

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Many who talk about the lunar landing recall the societal upheaval that gripped America in 1969. John Noble Wilford, The New York Times reporter covering the story, remembered the moment as a great relief for a weary nation.

The society that responded with can-do confidence to President Kennedy’s challenge had changed, almost beyond recognition, by the eve of Apollo’s climactic successes. It dismayed me to think that the country was so transformed that the first human voyages to the Moon might wind up as irrelevancies. Selfishly, I wanted the story to be as big and inspiring of awe as I had counted on when I took the assignment. I wanted the same country that decided to go to the Moon to be there, relieved and enthralled, when at last we succeeded.

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Wilford adds that the history has yet to come to terms with the tremendous implications of putting a man on the moon.

In a 2008 book, “Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth,” Robert Poole contends that the picture was the spiritual nascence of the environmental movement, writing that “it is possible to see that Earthrise marked the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth.”

...“As you look back 100 years from now, which is more important, the idea that people left their home planet or the idea that people arrived at their nearby satellite?” Collins asked himself. “I’m not sure, but I think probably you would say Apollo 8 was of more significance than Apollo 11, even though today we regard Apollo 11 as being the showpiece and zenith of the Apollo program, rightly so. But, as I say, 100 years from now, historians may say Apollo 8 is more significant; it’s more significant to leave than it is to arrive.”

...At the conclusion of that flight, Apollo 17, I solicited historians’ assessment of the significance of these early years in space. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. predicted that in 500 years, the 20th century would probably be remembered mainly for humanity’s ventures beyond its native planet. At the close of the century, he had not changed his mind.

...“We were really very privileged,” (Armstrong) said, “to live in that thin slice of history where we changed how man looks at himself and what he might become and where he might go.”

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Still, despite all the nostalgia, funding for NASA remains inadequate for a project that would equal Apollo’s ambition. Author Tom Wolfe writes that the Apollo 11 venture was not the beginning of space exploration, but in many ways, the end. After winning the space race, America’s competitive spirit was exhausted.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I add “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world, died in infancy at 10:56 p.m. New York time on July 20, 1969, the moment the foot of Apollo 11’s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.