Neil Armstrong, pilot of the spacecraft “Eagle”, took the first human step onto the moon on July 20, 1969. It was 10:56 EDT when he uttered the famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong led with his left foot as he touched down on the grainy gray soil.
People watched from all over the world as the “Eagle” made its dramatic touchdown. The moment was filled with fear and curiosity.
He was joined by astronaut Buzz Aldrin fifteen minutes later. Within moments, another famous sentence, “The Eagle has landed” became history.
Michael Collins was the pilot of Apollo 11’s “Columbia”, the command ship. Collins circled above the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin explored the moon’s surface. When it was time for the “Eagle” to lift off and join “Columbia” the world again held their breath and watched in anticipation.
President Richard Nixon had one of his speech writers prepare a speech in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin could not return from the moon. Luckily, this speech was never used.
The Soviet Union launched the first unmanned satellite called “Sputnik 1” on October 4, 1957 and the “Space Age” began. The race to be the first to land on the moon became a goal “Space Race”. The US lagged behind throughout most of the race, but was the first to put a man on the moon. And miraculously, they returned home safely.
The first unmanned landing in the moon was in 1959 sent from the Soviet Union. Their spacecraft “Luna 2” crashed at high speed onto the surface. In 1962 the American’s launched “Ranger 4” which also crashed onto the surface.
The primary concerns with moon landings were the gravitational pull causing high velocities during landings. The first few attempts at landing were crash landings at 5,000 miles per hour.
The next few attempts were followed by hard landings, where the spacecraft can be slowed down to impact speed of less than 100 miles per hour. The Soviets, again, were the first to achieve an unmanned hard landing in 1966. Months later the US achieved the first unmanned soft landing, where the spacecraft landed with negligible speed at impact.
Interestingly, in 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, historical records regarding their lunar efforts were released. Apparently the Soviets named their missions after the success of the mission was determined. If the mission was a success it was named “Luna”, and if the mission failed it was usually given the name of “Sputnik” or “Cosmos”. Launch explosions were not acknowledged at all.