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Celebrating 50 years of the Apollo 11 moon landing

Once in a generation we witness an achievement so dazzling, so death-defying, so one-of-a-kind that it seems like the whole world stops and stands in awe. The Apollo 11 Moon landing was one of those moments. A rare, once-in-a-generation achievement that not only had millions on the edge of their sofas but also heralded the beginning of the end for the Cold War. This is PIF’s homage, 50 years on, to the moment man walked on the moon.

A fiftieth anniversary is a big deal by anyone’s estimations. But it doesn’t get much bigger than celebrating 50 years since mankind achieved its most awe-inspiring success to date: putting a man (two men, in fact!) on the moon. It’s certainly fitting that we traditionally mark a fiftieth anniversary milestone with the gift of gold. Because the Apollo 11 moon landing marked a golden era in aeronautics. Never before or since has a space programme had quite as much importance or indeed captured the public’s imagination as that mission.

You could say that the United States, led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), took gold in the Space Race too when they beat what was then the Soviet Union (USSR) and now Russia to take the first steps on the moon’s dusty surface. Prior to that mission, the Americans were losing. Badly. The Russians had flexed their technological might by sending the first satellite, Sputnik 1, the first man, Yuri Gagarin, and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space. America, and the Western world in general, desperately needed a “win” to ease the Cold War tension.

It took eight years, one month and 26 days, not to mention three NASA space programmes (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo), to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s stated vision in 1961 “to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth.” At 10:56 p.m. ET on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong tentatively placed his left foot on the Moon and uttered those now famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Twenty minutes later, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin joined him.

While the forgotten man of the Apollo 11 mission, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, remained in orbit, manning the command module Columbia that would eventually take all three back to Earth, Armstrong and Aldrin planted the Star Spangled Banner into the surface of the moon. Thereby, effectively instigating the end of the Space Race, the first thaw of the Cold War, and the gradual demise of manned spaceflight in any major sense. Relations with the Russians eased over the ensuing decades, particularly following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. To the point of active cooperation on the International Space Station.

Truly a great leap for mankind in more ways than those three brave astronauts, or the estimated 600 million viewers worldwide who’d tuned in to watch those grainy but momentous images, could ever have imagined. Actually, not quite. Because one man was acutely aware of Apollo 11’s significance: Neil Armstrong. Sadly, Armstrong didn’t live to see the fiftieth anniversary of the Moon landing. He passed away on 25 August 2012 due to heart complications at the age of 82. However, his legacy certainly lives on. As do his words.

In an interview on 60 Minutes back in 2005, Armstrong revealed what went through his mind when he uttered those prophetic words. “I thought about all those 400,000 people (at NASA) that had given me the opportunity to make that step and thought ‘it’s going to be a big something for all those folks’ and indeed a lot of others that weren’t involved in the project.” Clearly, he was all too aware of what that moment meant to the world at large. And, when asked what it was like to walk on the moon, his answer was typically out of this world. “It’s an interesting place to be. I recommend it!”

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