Fortieth anniversary of first manned Moon landing

Monday, July 20, 2009

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first ever landing of humans on the Moon. Launched on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar surface at 20:17 UTC on July 20.

The historic anniversary was marked by the current United States President, Barack Obama, meeting the crew, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin, the first men on the satellite's surface, and Michael Collins, who remained in lunar orbit. Obama praised the men and commented on the global historical significance of their deeds. At the time of the initial landing Aldrin and Armstrong spoke to then-president Richard M. Nixon by radio shortly after landing.

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"

The culmination of the 1960s space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was not solely the work of the Americans. Among the statements surrounding the anniversary, Armstrong had written a message praising the Australian team at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station near Canberra. Without their involvement there would have been no black and white television pictures for the millions worldwide who watched man's first step onto the Moon. Armstrong stated he had been surprised when Mission control told him they had pictures, commenting about the camera, "in all that testing, I never saw a picture successfully transmitted. But the chaps assured us that it would, in fact, work. And it did."

NASA's current plans to return to the Moon by 2020 have been derided by Buzz Aldrin. Today at a reunion of lunar astronauts he dismissed these proposals, "America to Mars is what ought to be, not America back to the moon". Plans for a lunar base to practice for a Mars trip also met with his scorn.

The journey to the Moon was initiated by then-President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The last time an astronaut walked on the moon was in 1972. In 1989 then-President George H.W. Bush used the twentieth anniversary to announce plans to fly back to the Moon and then on to Mars, but these never materialized. Obama has set up a commission to provide advice on where to take the U.S. space program next.

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