Neil Armstrong on the moon.
Neil Armstrong on the moon. NASA

DAY IN HISTORY: Armstrong takes first step on the moon

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

And with that those immortal words, US astronaut and commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong, became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The mission was the culmination of a long and arduous plan instigated by President John F Kennedy to beat the Russian to the moon amidst the backdrop of the Cold War.

In 1966, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission.

However, tragedy struck a year later when three astronauts were killed when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test.

Undeterred, NASA in 1968 launched Apollo 7, the first manned mission, which orbited the earth and then later in the year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back.

And then, following another two missions, Armstrong, with fellow astronauts Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, climbed aboard Apollo 11 and blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre on July 16, 1969.

After travelling 386,200kms in 76 hours, Armstrong and Aldrin clambered inside the lunar module Eagle, separated from the command module and touched down on the moon.

"The Eagle has landed," Armstrong reported back to mission control.

And with the world watching via a camera attached to the module, Armstrong descended the ladder, planted his foot on the lunar surface and then uttered those famous words.

Armstrong would later contend he was misheard through his microphone and he actually said "that's one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind".

Aldrin soon joined him on the surface of the moon with the duo running a few simple tests, before talking to President Richard M. Nixon and then returning to the module where they spent the night.

The next day, the Eagle ascended back to the command module, successfully docked and, with Armstrong and Aldrin re-joining Collins, returned home to a hero's welcome on July 24, 1969.

Armstrong and Aldrin left several items on their departure, with the most iconic and poignant being a simple plaque that reads: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon-July 1969 A.D-We came in peace for all mankind."

There would be six more missions to the moon, five being successful and the other, Apollo 13, creating headlines as the greatest space rescue of all time.

But the program was ultimately doomed: the Apollo program, though victorious in beating the Russians, cost the American people $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today's currency).

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