The Greatest Moment In Human History
Space

The Military Men Who Took Us To The Moon

A look at one of history's most iconic moments - which was brought to us courtesy of military pilots.

The Greatest Moment In Human History

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” - Neil Armstrong uttered these immortal words right after he stepped off the ladder of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.

"Armstrong is on the moon, Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American standing on the surface of the moon, on this July 20th, nineteen hundred and sixty-nine." And those famous words, uttered by Walter Cronkite, came right beforehand.

Now, on the eve of the 50-year anniversary of the moon landing, Neil Armstrong's son Mark has been promoting a new documentary about his father, 'Armstrong', which is narrated by Harrison Ford. (The trailer is below).

Speaking to 'Good Morning Britain', Mark said that his father's famous quote actually wasn't explicitly scripted or pre-planned for him. Rather, he came up with it on his own:

"My dad was a very thoughtful guy. And... no one told him what to say, and... he said it very simply; he said, 'I knew I was going to be taking a small step, but it was going to mean a lot to a lot of people'. And just from that simple concept... that phrase was born."

Walter Cronkite covers the Moon Landing on CBS News

Armstrong had been a US Navy pilot who'd served in the Korean War, before becoming a reservist and university student.

After that, he was a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

When the NACA was absorbed by the newly created NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1958, Armstrong became an astronaut for the new organisation.

Armstrong's crew members, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, had similarly both been pilots, but in the United States Air Force.

The Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong (left), Buzz Aldrin (centre), Michael Collins (right)

President Eisenhower had established NASA as a civilian space research science program, but it was President Kennedy who pushed the organisation to put a man on the moon.

The 1960s saw a great deal of competitive engineering in the field of aeronautics, leading to planes such as the incredible X-15 and to the first manned space missions, as the cosmos became the arena for the world’s superpowers, the US and the USSR, to flex their muscles.

In a speech to Congress on May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy urged his nation to take the bold next step:

"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

The Apollo Program began but got off to an inauspicious start when the crew of Apollo 1 were tragically killed in 1967 in a catastrophic fire during a launch rehearsal.

Despite this setback, NASA pushed on, and 10 missions later, Apollo 11 delivered Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the surface of the moon.

Ryan Gosling recreates Neil Armstrong's moon landing in 'First Man'

The Apollo program saw other successful moon landings, but the Apollo 13 mission suffered an oxygen tank explosion en route and the resulting drama, played out on television across the world, very nearly saw the crew, under Commander Jim Lovell, die while trying to return to earth.

Apollo 17 was the last manned moon mission, and the last time humans travelled beyond low Earth orbit… that is until Matt Damon got stuck on Mars.

Apollo 13 launched using a Saturn V rocket to propel the crew beyond the Earth’s gravity - the same rocket used to launch Apollo 11