On July 20

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These are Neil Armstrong’s famous words uttered on this day that age when he made his first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969. Though it seems that Armstrong has actually been misquoted all these years (there was an “a” that got lost in there, which clarifies the statement quite a bit, ) it didn’t stop the phrase from becoming one of the most used one-liners in culture.

And the event it symbolizes also sits at the forefront of one of the greatest achievements of (a) man in history.

Historical Significance

In was in 1969 on this day when the Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon. The United States was in the midst of a Cold War with Russia. One consequence of this non-military war was a great development in terms of spatial sciences. The two countries were in an unofficial race of which could finally conquer the great outer space.

At first, it seems like the Soviets had a great advantage as Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into space on April 1961. That same year, in May, President John F. Kennedy set a fairly ambitious goal that would later become the purpose of Apollo 11: to have a ship land on the surface of the moon, have its crew walk on the surface, and then return to earth.

landing on the surface of the moon

Of course, this was not the only objective of the Apollo 11. Once arrived, the crew would also:

  • Transmit signals to Earth, live;
  • Conduct a solar wind composition experiment and a seismic experiment;
  • Gather samples from the surface;
  • Photograph the terrain.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, from Cape Kennedy with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on board. The first steps, broadcasted live to roughly 650 million people, were taken four days later, on July 20. 20 minutes later, Aldrin followed. 30 minutes after they had returned to the Apollo 11, President Nixon spoke to the astronauts to congratulate them. 

Armstrong and Aldrin spent roughly 21 hours on the surface of the moon, took a 7-hour rest, and finally set to return to Earth. Re-entry procedures were started on July 24, 44 hours after leaving the lunar orbit.

How it Unfolds

In 2019, the Apollo 11 mission celebrates its 50th anniversary, for which the U.S. Mint prepared special coins to mark the occasion. 

The Smithsonian Institution also announced it’s remodeling the moon gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., planning for a 2021 launch. There will be several national events celebrating the Apollo 11 landing. In fact, some will even remain open until December this year. You can see a full list of these events here.

Though widely celebrated at the time, America’s excitement for space travel quickly diminished after Apollo 11, the following trip never getting the same reaction from the public. Many believe this was partially due to the complexity of the following missions – Apollo 11’s goal of landing on the moon was simple enough for most Americans to follow, while the other missions needed further astronomy knowledge to be understood. 

But even if space missions aren’t what they used to be, the public’s interest still gravitates towards the memory of Apollo 11 every July on this day. In 2019, the NASM hosted a gala for Apollo 11-s 40th anniversary and enjoyed the presence of all three crew members. When the autograph session launched, the queues of people quickly covered the entire floor of the museum. It’s very likely for something similar to repeat this year.

Related Events on This Date

  • In 1960, 9 years before the launching of Apollo 11, the USSR recovers two dogs from space. While the U.S. was sending monkeys into space, the Soviets used dogs, though generally, these were one-way trips. But in 1960, the Soviets managed to successfully return the dogs to Earth. 
  • In 1976, the US Viking 1 landed on Mars at Chryse Planitia, becoming second Martian landing, but the first to complete its mission. The first-ever Martian landing was achieved by the Soviet Union’s Mars 3 on December 2, 1971, but it completely stopped transmitting after 14.5 seconds.

Famous Birthdays

356 BC: Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was a king of the ancient Kingdom of Macedon. He took the throne of the kingdom at the age of 20 and spent most of his reigning years conquering various areas of Asia and Africa. By the time he reached 30, he had created one of the biggest empires of ancient times, from Greece all the way to parts of India. Records attest he was undefeated in battle, was tutored directly by Aristotle in his youth, founded nearly 20 cities that had its name, and is still regarded as one of the great military leaders of the world. At age 32, he dies but it is not exactly known what lead to his death.

1919: Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer and, together with Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953. From 1985 to 1988, Hillary becomes New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh, as well as Ambassador to Nepal. After climbing Mount Everest, the mountaineer dedicated a good part of his career helping the Sherpa people in Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, a humanitarian organization he established to help the local people.

1962: Julie Bindel

Julie Bindel is an English writer, feminist, and co-founder of the Justice of Women group which helps give legal counsel to women prosecuted for killing their violent male partners. Much of her professional activity concerns violence against women and children, focusing on subjects such as pornography, prostitution, or human trafficking. 

This day in history seems filled with many more stories, doesn’t it? Discover some of them here.

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