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Today in History... first man on the moon

12:00am | & News

The world held its breath on July 21st 1969 as man first set foot on the moon.

With the immortal words "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped down from the ladder of his Eagle landing craft onto the surface of the moon.

Marking the pinnacle of a 20-year space race between America and the USSR, the Apollo 11 moon landing was broadcast live on TV and radio stations around the globe. Armstrong was followed onto the surface 20 minutes later by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the two astronauts spending two-and-a-half hours on the lunar surface, taking photographs and collecting scientific samples.

They also erected an American Stars and Stripes flag and unveiled a plaque bearing the signature of American President Richard Nixon. It read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind."

Armstrong and Aldrin performed a number of physical exercises, jumping across the surface in the very low gravity atmosphere – about one-sixth of that on Earth. They filmed their experience on a portable TV camera and while on the moon also received a message from President Nixon, who expressed his pride, saying: "This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made."

Nations around the world sent their congratulations to the USA, while Moscow Radio announced the news solemnly on its routine broadcast. In total the Eagle landing craft spent 21 hours on the moon before blasting off to rendezvous with the mothership, Columbia, which had been orbiting the planet piloted by another astronaut, Michael Collins.

Over the next three years 10 more astronauts walked on the moon in a further six Apollo missions, some driving a moon buggy and others even playing golf. But with its aims achieved and no other planets in reach, NASA's space programme was gradually scaled back. Neil Armstrong, who will always be remembered as the first man on the moon, died in 2012 at the age of 82, while Buzz Aldrin lives on, aged 86.

At the time of the moon landings no-one questioned them, but in the decades since conspiracy theories have persisted that the landings were elaborately faked, filmed in specially made studios in remote desert locations. Independent photos of the six American flags placed on the moon by each of the missions to land there would seem to disprove the conspiracies.

Five are still standing, while the original Apollo 11 flag was blown over by the blast of the Eagle capsule taking off, but is still where Armstrong and Aldrin left it.

Pictured are the crew of Apollo 11, from the left, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

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