Forty years ago, the U.S. Apollo program put the first human on the moon. Now, NASA is gearing up to go back.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." On July 20, 1969, millions of Americans turned on their televisions to see American astronaut Neil Armstrong, who spoke these words from the surface of the moon. For 19 minutes, Armstrong stood alone where no human had ever stood before. Then crewmember Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin joined him on the gray, dusty soil. Though the black-and-white television images were jerky and blurred, ecstatic earthlings felt as if they, too, had soared above the world.The Eagle Has Landed
In the 1950s and '60s, two countries raced to get to the moon first: the U.S. and the Soviet Union (a large nation of republics, including Russia, that existed until 1991). Unmanned Soviet rockets got to the moon first, but the Apollo program made history.
Three astronauts manned the Apollo 11 mission: Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins. The trip from Earth to the moon took four days. A special lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, carried Armstrong and Aldrin to and from the moon while Collins remained in lunar orbit. The landing was tense. It took Armstrong longer than expected to find a level place to land. The lunar module had less than 40 seconds of fuel remaining when it safely touched down. "The Eagle has landed," Armstrong reported. "You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue," responded Charles Duke, at NASA's headquarters in Houston, Texas. "We're breathing again."
Armstrong and Aldrin spoke to President Richard Nixon by radio telephone. They set up scientific experiments, collected soil samples and planted an American flag on the surface of the moon. They also left behind a plaque that reads: "We came in peace for all mankind." Though the flag was blown over when the lunar module took off, the footprints left by the astronauts are still there.Back to the Moon
NASA aims to send people back to the moon in 2020. Plans are already in high gear. "We'll launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in June, which is the first step," explains Grey Hautaluoma, who works for NASA's moon exploration program. "It will map the moon in more detail than ever before to help select a landing site for the future missions."
NASA's goal is to build a lunar outpost, a place where astronauts could live for months at a time while doing scientific research and experiments. NASA is also building lunar rovers, vehicles astronauts could use to explore large sections of the moon. "We're excited about going back to the moon," Hautaluoma told TFK. "We've only really been there a handful of days, so there's a lot that we have yet to learn."