Indeed, it was one giant leap for mankind.
Following one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 got the go for what mission controllers on Earth called “Translunar Injection” sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into the lunar module for the descent for the moon while Michael Collins, stayed back orbiting in the command module Columbia.
Fifty years this month marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the most daring and most technologically advanced space adventures at the time.
July 20, 1969 at 7:56 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Armstrong readied himself to plant the first human foot on the moon as more than half a billion people watched on television. He stepped down the ladder, proclaiming: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2 ½ hours on the moon.
While a world watched, missing it all was Collins who didn’t hear it as his command module floated in space. “That’s all right, I don’t mind a bit,” he said, after listening to NASA telling him he was probably the only person around who did not have TV coverage of the scene when the astronauts were placing a flag on the surface of another world.
While Collins never walked on the moon, he had the task of bringing home Armstrong, Aldrin and himself home safely. There was no room for error.
“It if didn’t work right, they were dead,” Collins recently said on NBC’s Today Show.
Mission accomplished. The module’s engines successfully fired and the crew splashed down off Hawaii on July 24.
President Kennedy’s challenge had been met, marking the day that a person from Earth walked on the moon and returned safely home.
After the mission, Armstrong called the experience “a beginning of a new age,” while Collins, like he still does today, talked about future journeys to Mars.
Eight years earlier President Kennedy made the challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.
NBC’s Harry Smith told the story about Collins sometimes walking in the evening, looking up at the moon and quietly saying, “Oh, I’ve been up there.”