Half a century ago, the first manned lunar landing mission launched and man left his footprint on the moon. The historic launch paved the way for future space exploration.
It was a sunny morning on July 16, 1969, when the Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Hundreds of spectators grabbed their binoculars and sunglasses to witness the takeoff from Cape Canaveral.
On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon’s surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. That historic day was witnessed on television by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. An estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong step out onto the lunar soil and heard his voice say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
About 20 minutes later, Aldrin followed, leaving his mark on the moon and helping to plant the American flag. Half an hour later, the astronauts received a call from President Richard Nixon to congratulate them. Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface of the moon for 21 hours and 36 minutes before traveling back to Earth.
According to NASA, “Commemorative medallions bearing the names of the three Apollo 1 astronauts who lost their lives in a launch pad fire, and two cosmonauts who also died in accidents, were left on the moon’s surface. A one-and-a-half inch silicon disk, containing micro miniaturized goodwill messages from 73 countries, and the names of congressional and NASA leaders, also stayed behind.”
On July 24, the astronauts returned to Earth with samples of lunar material and other debris. The men were placed in quarantine for 21 days and checked for any diseases they might have picked up on the moon.
The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of safely landing man on the moon by the end of the decade. It made the United States the leader in the Space Race against the Soviet Union.
The Space Race not only pushed the limits of space exploration but also transformed higher education in our own backyard. The demand for engineers in Cape Canaveral fueled the need for a local technical college. So Florida Technological University, now University of Central Florida, was founded in 1963. Today, UCF is one of Florida’s top universities with numerous programs ranked nationally.
Several events will be held on the space coast in honor of this special anniversary, including a Moon Landing event on July 20, where visitors can enjoy hors d’oeuvres while viewing historic lunar landing footage. Then, on July 24, visitors are invited to enjoy family friendly activities, photo opportunities and classic cars at Splashdown to celebrate the astronauts’ return to Earth.