How One Small Step Became a Giant Leap

It was 45 years ago today, July 20, 1969, that a human being first stepped onto the moon’s surface. I remember it well, because I was one of the billion Earthlings who watched it happen, as TV broadcast images of Neil Armstrong stepping off the lander onto the lunar surface. Space reporter Jay Barbree covered the Apollo missions as they happened, and now has a biography of Armstrong called Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight. Astronomy magazine has a five-page excerpt from the book in honor of the moon landing’s anniversary. Highlights include:  

Armstrong wasn’t sure what he would say when he stepped on the Moon: “For some time, he had been thinking about what he would say when he actually stepped on the Moon. He had thought about one statement he judged had meaning and fit the historic occasion, and he ran it by his brother, Dean, and others close. Neil had not made up his mind. He told me he was undecided until he was faced with the moment.”

What Armstrong thought about the Earth as he stepped on the moon: “In this neighborhood of the universe, it was life’s only world. It was encased in diamond-hard blackness, and Neil recognized it mattered little if we were Republican, Democrat, Independent, apolitical, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, or who the hell we liked or disliked. We live on a vulnerable world where we must take care of its very finite resources — on a world where we all would suffer terrifying consequences if we drained it of its ability to sustain us — its ability to foster and nurture the very life we now threaten to contaminate.”

President Nixon’s words to Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin: “I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you are doing for every American. This has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they, too, join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world.”

Read the rest of this fascinating account at Astronomy.

(Image credit: NASA)

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