History was made on October 4, 1957, history when the Soviet Union sent the first man-made aircraft into earth’s orbit with Sputnik I, a shock to the United States government and scientific community. National security implications were huge; an adversary who could orbit the globe could, theoretically, deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere. So was born the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The two superpowers competed for space-age supremacy, a race that would be charged by the Soviet Union’s first manned orbit of Earth on April 12, 1961. The US-made its next move when President John Kennedy gave a speech before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. In this speech, Kennedy declared his intention to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.
And finally, despite an insanely compressed time frame, it happened. On July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin entered the Lunar Module Eagle, separated from the Command Module, and began their descent to the moon. However, it all did not go according to plan.
Approximately five minutes into the descent, the first of several 1201 and 1202 computer alarms raised the specter of a potential abort. The crew continued descent and were ultimately advised by NASA ground control that the alarms pertained to a guidance control overload issue and the landing was a go. Then on final approach, Armstrong, realizing the programmed landing spot was boulder covered and inaccessible, turned the autopilot feature off and took manual control of the lander, searching for the ideal location. At 3:17 pm, with 25 seconds of fuel remaining, the Eagle touched down on the lunar surface, and for the first time in history, a man was on the moon.
Armstrong would depart the lander almost seven hours later, to be joined by Aldrin. Together the two would spend 21 hours and 36 minutes walking and working on the moon’s surface before igniting the Lunar Module’s ascent stage, rendezvousing with Command Module pilot Michael Collins, and returning safely to earth, as envisioned by President Kennedy a mere eight years before.