(Originally published by the Daily News on July 21, 1969. This story was written by Mark Bloom.)
HOUSTON, July 20 – Two men landed on the moon today and for more than two hours walked its forbidding surface in mankind’s first exploration of an alien world.
In the most incredible adventure in human history. These men coolly established earth’s first outpost in the universe, sending back an amazing panorama of views to millions of awed TV viewers.
With his camera recording the fantastic, totally unreal scene for his home planet, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong climbed down a nine-rung ladder from the cabin of the landing craft called Eagle. He became the first man to step on the moon. It was 10:56 p.m., New York time.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong exclaimed.
Nineteen minutes later, Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr. joined Armstrong on the surface, and cried: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, a magnificent desolation.”
MAN ON THE MOON: THE TALK BETWEEN MISSION CONTROL AND THE APOLLO 11 CREW WHILE ON THE MOON
In the two hours and 16 minutes between the time Armstrong stepped on the surface and the pair were back inside Eagle’s cabin, research was begun. It may unlock many secrets of the universe and provide clues to how it all started.
The astronauts collected more than 50 pounds of lunar rocks and soil. The most valuable payload science has ever known.
Many scientists on earth believe that when these rocks are studied on earth they will show a record of the solar system as it was when it was formed – untarnished by wind and weather in the airless wastes of the moon.
The astronauts left two self contained, automated scientific experiments on the moon. One will answer the age-old question of whether the moon is internally active, like the earth, or cold and inert like a meteorite.
The two men planted the American flag on the moon. Not as a sign of acquisition of territory, but as a sign of the nation which was willing to spend the energy and money to carry out this adventure.
And they got a warm telephone call of congratulations from President Nixon, 240,000 miles away on earth. He said their feat “inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth.”
They succeeded in landing on the moon on man’s first attempt, fulfilling the nation’s goal of a manned lunar landing by the end of the decade.
But they still must return to earth. The tension was already building up for tomorrow’s critical moment at 1:50 p.m. – the instant when Eagle’s ascent engine must fire, or Armstrong and Aldrin will be marooned on the moon.
If all goes well, Apollo 11 will splash down in the Pacific 1,200 miles southwest of Hawaii next Thursday afternoon.
Moment of Ages
The astronauts’ feats combined into the moment of the ages, the light paint of man’s eternal search for new worlds.
It was the climax of centuries of dreams, centuries of science, centuries of faith, climaxing man’s slow and painful steps toward unlocking the secrets of his universe.
It was also the climax of an American dream, a challenge to the nation to be first in the realm of space, to be first to land a man on the moon.
Finds Powdered Surface
After Armstrong cautiously descended from the lunar vehicle, he said:
“The surface is fine and powdered, like powdered charcoal to the soles of my boots… I can see my footprints of my boot in the fine particles.”
Armstrong began his momentous walk more than six hours after the lunar module swept to another celestial body.
Takes Over Controls
In the final 300 feet, Armstrong took over the manual controls when he saw that the computer-run automatic pilot was sending the small, spider-like craft toward a boulder-strewn area.
As a result, when Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility at 4:17:45 p.m., New York time, Armstrong had only 45 seconds of hover time left. But he signaled the arrival in a typically matter-of-fact message to Houston.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
It was 10:51 p.m. when Armstrong climbed from Eagle’s cabin onto the “porch” of the vehicle – the landing atop the nine-rung ladder leading to the surface.
“How’m I doing?” asked Armstrong.
“You’re doing fine,” said Aldrin.
At 11:15 p.m., after Armstrong had described the powdery soil on the surface and collected a two-pound sample of rocks in case the walk had to be cut short, he was joined on the surface by Aldrin.
Both descents and the astronauts’ activities outside the vehicle were beamed to the earth on live TV.
As he started down the ladder. Aldrin commented:
“I’m making sure not to lock it (the hatch) on the way out.”
A Good Thought
“That’s a good thought,” said Armstrong.
As he reached the surface, Aldrin commented: “It sure is powdery.”
“Isn’t this fun?” asked Armstrong.
“The rocks are rather slippery,” said Aldrin.
“There seems to be no difficulty in moving around,” said Armstrong. “I suspect it is even easier than simulations… on the ground. Simply no trouble to walk around.”
Checks for Damage
Armstrong, taking huge, graceful strides, inspected the footpads and legs of the lunar module to make sure there was no damage.
Aldrin said: “You have to be careful in leaning in directions you want to go… You have to cross your foot over to stay underneath where your center of mass is.”
He continued: “Say, Neil, didn’t I say you would see some purple rocks?”
“You found some,” asked Armstrong.
“Yes,” said Aldrin.
While taking the first two-pound rock sample, Armstrong said he ran into a very hard surface directly underneath the powdery top soil. “But it seems to be a very cohesive material of the same sort.”
He described the soil as having “a certain beauty all its own – like (the) desert of the U.S. It’s different but very pretty.”
At 11:26 p.m., about half an hour after Armstrong reached the surface, he unveiled a plaque commemorating the feat.
Signatures on Plaque
The plaque bore the signatures of the three astronauts and President Nixon.
The astronauts’ walk on the moon, highlighted when they raised the American flag, all but eclipsed their earlier feat of landing on the lunar surface.
The epic moment came after Armstrong and Aldrin flew Eagle away from Columbia, the Apollo 11 command craft piloted by Mike Collins, and started downward.
“Eagle has wings,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong said Eagle steered its way past a football field-sized crater bristling with big boulders and rocks which would have been hazardous.
Earth control said the touchdown point, though about four miles east of the planned point, was well within the safety guidelines set forth in the mission rules.
The pilot said he had to take over from the auto-targeting computer in the last 150 feet “and fly manually over the rock field to find a reasonably good area.”
“It looks like there’s a collection of just about every variety of shape, angularity, and every variety of rock you could find,” said Aldrin. “The color is dark and it varies pretty much depending on how you’re looking at it.”
Aldrin continued: “There doesn’t seem to be much of a general color at all, and it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders, of which there are quite a few in the near area, look as though they’re going to have some interesting colors to them.”
Everything control reported that everything was “go” for Eagle in every respect, and the astronauts were given permission to stay at least 10 hours.
Climax of an American Dream
It was the moment of the ages in the long history of man’s exploration, his eternal search to explore new worlds.
The climax of centuries of dreams, centuries of science, centuries of faith, and of man’s slow and painful steps toward unlocking the secrets of his universe.
The climax of an American dream, a challenge to the nation to be first in the realm of space, to be first to land a man on the moon, and to do it before the end of this decade. It was done with almost six months to spare.
Man’s final push to the moon began with President Kennedy’s speech to Congress on May 25, 1961: “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 earth.”
The steps to the moon today began at 12:53 p.m. when the astronauts received the word from earth control: “Apollo 11 you are go for undocking.”
“Roger, understand,” replied Armstrong, not a trace of nervousness in his voice.
“Both vehicles look very good,” said earth control.
At that point, Apollo 11 swept around behind the moon for the 12th time since the astronauts flew into lunar orbit yesterday, and began preparing to head down the surface.
Cable to Borman
Apollo 11 was in a near circular orbit about 70 miles above the pock-marked, barren stretches of the moon.
As all this was happening, Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman received another cable from Mystslav V. Keldysh, president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, reporting that Luna 15, the unmanned spacecraft keeping Apollo 11 company, had changed its orbit around the moon again.
When Apollo 11 emerged from the eastern rim of the moon and was back in radio contact with the earth, Armstrong reported: “Eagle’s undocked and looking good.” Eagle and Columbia separated at 1:47 p.m., not to rejoin for more than 24 hours.