"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." This sentence captured the
very essence of man's first landing on the moon. In May 1961, the American
President John F. Kennedy made a call for the first men to be sent to the moon.
This challenge was made just days after the
first man in America, Alan Shepard, went into space. President Kennedy's
challenge prompted everyone to work hard towards that goal -- put a man on the
moon and bring him home safely.
Three men were chosen for
this important mission -- Neil Armstrong,
Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. All of them were experienced pilots, well
versed in the science of physics and engineering. Going into space was something
not to be taken lightly as there were many dangers involved. Already, there were
astronauts who had lost their lives. Three men were
killed in January 1967 in a pre-flight test. They were in a cabin
that was filled with oxygen when a short circuit caused an electrical spark
which in turn started a fire. It spread very quickly in the oxygen-filled cabin
and all three men perished in that tragedy.
It was also a matter of pride for the Americans to be the first men on the
moon. At that time, they were in the middle of a 'space race' with the Soviet
Union. Each side tried to outdo each other in space. So far, the Soviets seemed
to be ahead of the Americans. They were the ones who put the first satellite,
Sputnik, into space in 1957. A Soviet cosmonaut became the first man in space.
The American, Alan Shepard, only followed the following month. If the Americans
succeeded in landing a man on the moon, they would then 'win' the race.
On 16 July, 1969, Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin prepared to be launched into
space. Their spacecraft, named Apollo 11, was huge, made up of some six million
parts. There were about ninety engines and motors. The astronauts were dependent
on their spacecraft, for if it should fail, then they too would fail in their
mission. Part of their spacecraft included a booster which when ignited, would
be like a small nuclear bomb. Thus, although dangerous, it was required so as to
push the spacecraft off earth and into space.
The men were cleared for the launch and were soon in space. In the
weightlessness of space, the men were soon floating. They had to be well
strapped and buckled when they were seated. Slowly, the Apollo 11 made its way
away from the earth and nearer to the moon. On the way, the spacecraft was
flooded with sunlight on one side while the other side was in complete darkness.
If it remained this way for long, the sunlit side would burn up while the dark
side would freeze. To avoid this, the spacecraft had to be put into a roll, thus
ensuring the while thing would be evenly heated and cooled.
Apollo 11 only reached the moon after a number of days. The vast distance
between the earth and the moon was the reason for this. Neil Armstrong was the
first to step out onto the moon. His first step was broadcast live to the people
on the earth and in triumph, Armstrong and another astronaut, Buzz Aldrin,
planted the American flag on the moon. The astronauts also left behind badges
which had belonged to the astronauts who had died before.
Since that momentous first step, astronauts have continued to explore space.