The First Moon Landing Took Place 48 Years Ago Today

Humans have done a myriad of impressive things in space, from building the International Space Station to landing a robot on a comet. Still, none of those accomplishments have quite the same historical weight as the first time a person walked on the moon. That first moon walk took place exactly 48 years ago today. It’s been a long time, but maybe we’ll get to go back some time soon.

The Apollo 11 landing was the culmination of years of intensive efforts at NASA. As the name indicates, Apollo 11 was the eleventh mission in the Apollo program. The first Apollo mission ended before it began in 1967 when a cabin fire was set off during a ground exercise, killing all three crew members. The names Apollo 2 and 3 were never formally used, but often refer to official test flights AS-201 and AS-202. The first successful Apollo liftoff was Apollo 4, which consisted of an unmanned Saturn V rocket in late 1967.

NASA worked at a furious pace in the late 60s, launching Saturn V rockets every few months as it worked toward the goal of putting a man on the moon. In later flights, it sent up manned missions to orbit the moon, and even one to almost land on it. That was Apollo 10, during which the crew got within a few miles of the moon’s surface while testing the lander. The module was famously under-fueled to make sure the crew didn’t get carried away and decide to land on the surface without authorization.

The launch of Apollo 11.

With all the pieces in place, Apollo 11 launched on July 16th, 1969, and reached the moon on July 20th. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down at about 11pm Eastern Time, and then Armstrong uttered those historic words as he stepped off the lander: “That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

Humans returned to the moon several more times, but the appetite for lunar exploration waned. Apollo 17 was the last moon mission in late 1972. The Apollo program was hugely expensive, but the public was on-board with the space race early on. It was important that NASA beat the Soviet Union to the moon after losing out on a number of previous milestones.

Today, manned spaceflight gets comparatively little funding. NASA has been saying for years that it plans to get a person to Mars by the mid 2030s, but an official recently admitted that agency simply doesn’t have the funding to make that a reality. So, maybe the moon again? It could serve as a launching pad for deep space missions, and it might be nice to check out our old stomping grounds.

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