On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade, an escalation of the Cold War "space race" with the Soviet Union.
Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, an embarrassing moment for the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done.
Only the construction of the Panama Canal in modern peacetime and the Manhattan Project in war were comparable in scope to the challenge of landing a man on the moon. The goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.
Apollo 11 crew
The official crew photo of the Apollo 11 mission. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, lunar module pilot.
"We came in peace for all mankind"
Here, Armstrong, left, displays a plaque that would be attached to a landing leg of the lunar module "Eagle" descent stage and left on the moon. Fellow astronaut Col. Buzz Aldrin, center, holds the Apollo 11 insignia, while the third member of the crew, command module pilot Lt. Col. Michael Collins, is at right.
The plaque reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Neil Armstrong, waving in front, heads for the van that will take the crew to the rocket for launch to the moon at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, July 16, 1969.
Armstrong, who died August 25, 2012 at 82, commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon's surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972.
Apollo 11 liftoff
On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT.
Aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot.
While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Spiro Agnew
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Spiro Agnew are among the spectators at the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969.
The first of six successful lunar missions, Apollo 11 marked the first time humans set foot on another planetary surface.
Apollo 11 liftoff
The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon's surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module.
Apollo 11 Launch Control Center
Apollo 11 mission officials relax in the Launch Control Center following the successful Apollo 11 liftoff on July 16, 1969. From left to right are: Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight; Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center; George Mueller, Associate Administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight; Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, Director of the Apollo Program.
The Eagle approaches command module during rendezvous.
Apollo 11 mission
Approaching Apollo Landing Site 2 in the Southwestern Sea of Tranquility.
Armstrong walks on moon
More than half a billion people watched on television on July 20, 1969, as Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon, proclaiming the words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The Apollo 11 mission captured the imagination of a generation.
During this first historic exploration of the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours on the lunar surface and brought back 46 pounds of lunar rocks.
Armstrong walks on moon
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudges across the surface of the moon leaving behind footprints on July 20, 1969.
The U.S. flag, planted on the surface by the astronauts, can be seen between Armstrong and the lunar module. Buzz Aldrin is seen closer to the craft. The men reported the surface of the moon was like soft sand and they left footprints several inches deep wherever they walked.
Neil Armstrong's first photo taken on the moon.
Credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA
Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Buzz Aldrin with the U.S. flag on the surface of the moon, in a famous photo taken by Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong works on lunar module
As commander of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong took most of the photographs from the historic moonwalk, but this rare shot from fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin shows Armstrong at work near the lunar module Eagle.
Sea of Tranquility region of the moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission, July 20, 1969.
Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera while he and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon.
Buzz Aldrin's footprint
A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's boot print in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11's sojourn on the moon.
Landing site- Mare Tranquillitatis
Not only was the landscape a place of "stark beauty," but also the source of rocks that revealed the moon's fiery past for the first time. The samples showed that the Apollo 11 landing site in Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) was once the site of volcanic activity, and the flat surface that afforded such an incredible vista was due to broad, thin flows of lava that flooded the region.
When Neil Armstrong took his famous first steps onto the lunar surface, he kicked around the soil. "Yes, the surface is fine and powdery." Gazing at the flat horizon, he took in the view. "Isn't that something! Magnificent sight out here," he said. "It has a stark beauty all its own. It's like much of the high desert of the United States. It's different, but it's very pretty out here."
A few minutes later Buzz Aldrin descended the ladder and joined Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon.
Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Buzz Aldrin carries scientific experiments to a deployment site south of the lunar module Eagle. One experiment involved the inner composition of the moon, and another tried to determine the exact distance from Earth.
Credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA/AP
Earthrise viewed from lunar orbit prior to landing.
Buzz Aldrin on the moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module.
An oblique view of the Crater Daedalus on the lunar far side, as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in lunar orbit. Daedalus (formerly referred to as Crater No. 308) has a diameter of about 50 miles. This is a typical scene showing the rugged terrain on the far side of the moon.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930 and died at age 82 on August 25, 2012.
Armstrong, a former Navy pilot, made history on July 20, 1969, when he became the first person to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11.
This photograph of Armstrong from the Apollo 11 mission was taken inside the Lunar Module while it rested on the lunar surface. Armstrong and Aldrin had already completed their historic moonwalk when this picture was made.
This outstanding view of the full moon was photographed from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its trans-Earth journey homeward. When this picture was taken, the spacecraft was already 10,000 nautical miles away.
Apollo 11 landing site
This image of the Apollo 11 landing site, captured from just 15 miles above the surface, provides the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)'s best look yet at humanity's first venture to another world.
You can see the remnants of Armstrong and Aldrin's first steps as dark regions around the Lunar Module (LM) and in dark tracks that lead to the scientific experiments the astronauts set up on the surface. The Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP) provided the first lunar seismic data, returning data for three weeks after the astronauts left, and the Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR) allows precise measurements to be collected to this day. You can even spot the discarded cover of the LRRR.
Another trail leads toward Little West crater around 50 meters (164 feet) to the east of the LM. This was an unplanned excursion near the end of the two and a half hours spent on the surface. Armstrong ran over to get a look inside the crater, and this was the farthest either astronaut ventured from the landing site.
Armstrong and Aldrin's surface activities were quite restricted. Their tracks cover less area than a typical city block.
In the Mission Operations Control Room of the Mission Control Center, flight controllers applaud the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and the successful completion of the Apollo 11 lunar mission on July 24, 1969.
Mobile Quarantine Facility
President Richard M. Nixon was in the central Pacific recovery area to welcome the Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet, the prime recovery ship for the historic mission. Already confined to the Mobile Quarantine Facility are (left to right) Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
Apollo 11 splashed down at 11:49 a.m. CDT, July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet.
New York ticker-tape parade
The Apollo 11 astronauts are honored with a ticket-tape parade in New York City, August 13, 1969. The astronauts were handed the key to the city and then rode up Broadway through the "Canyon of Heroes." The New York Times reported that the confetti was "so dense that the astronauts could hardly see."