Since 1966 to March 1969, NASA launched Apollo 7 to Apollo 10 missions to establish possibility of human landing on the moon. On July 16, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a message: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Armstrong later confirmed that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”
At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon. Aldrin joined him shortly, and offered a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explored the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs. They left behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs which reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” At 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module on return journey.