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One giant leap for mankind

It’s hard to believe 50 years have passed since humans first set foot on the Moon.
RELATED TOPICS: THE MOON
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Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag as he looks directly toward the Sun. (You can see his fingertips on the far side of the helmet.) Several well-defined bootprints appear in the foreground.
All photos, unless stated: NASA
Beamed across 241,000 miles (388,000 kilometers) of space, the grainy images reminded me of a scene from the classic TV series The Outer Limits. But what I was seeing on my family’s small-screen, black-and-white television were live pictures of Neil Armstrong preparing to step onto the lunar surface from the Apollo 11 lunar module (LM), Eagle.

“I’m at the foot of the ladder,” he says in a remarkably calm voice. “The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about 1 or 2 inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine-grained as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder.” A half-minute later, he declares: “OK. I’m going to step off the LM now.”

After what seemed like an eternity (though it lasted only 11 seconds), Armstrong uttered the words that still resonate across half a century: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It marked the culmination of a mission that had begun on a sunny Florida morning four days before, the fulfillment of a goal set eight years earlier by President John F. Kennedy, and the achievement of the dreams of countless people over the centuries who had stared in awe at Earth’s brilliant satellite.

After waiting anxiously for 20 minutes, Buzz Aldrin descended the Eagle’s ladder and joined Armstrong on the surface. For two and a half hours, the astronauts gathered soil samples, deployed scientific experiments, planted a U.S. flag, and talked with President Nixon from the Oval Office. All the while, the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins, orbited some 66 miles (106 km) overhead.

The following pages showcase a small sample of the more than 1,000 photographs the Apollo crew captured during this historic mission. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee (or glass of Tang), and experience humankind’s grand adventure one more time.

All photos, unless stated: NASA
Seconds after the Saturn V’s rockets ignited on the morning of July 16, a fisheye camera lens mounted on the launch tower captured the massive rocket passing by.
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Explore NASA's missions to Saturn, Pluto and Jupiter in this free PDF curated by Astronomy magazine.