After blasting off from Pad 39A in Florida and a three day journey to enter lunar orbit, the world is waiting as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leave Columbia pilot Michael Collins behind to orbit the Moon as they climb into the lunar module Eagle.
It's on them to fulfill the challenge that President John F. Kennedy laid down to the nation and Congress in 1961 of landing on the moon and safely returning to earth .
As the Eagle descends toward its landing area in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong has to improvise to manually pilot the ship past an area of rocky boulders with the Eagle's onboard computers signaling alarms as he's doing so.
Finally at 3:18 PM CDT the lunar module is on the surface of the moon with 30 seconds of fuel left and Armstrong radios, "Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed." as cheers and the tension breaks in Mission Control.
At 9:56 PM CDT Armstrong is ready to begin the EVA and plant his foot on the lunar surface as half a billion people watch on television screens around the globe. As he climbs down the ladder from Eagle and steps onto the surface he proclaims: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (› Play Audio)
He's joined by Aldrin as the duo explore the lunar surface for two and a half hours. They collect rock samples, take photographs, and leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew members, leave their footprints in the lunar soil and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs before blasting off to dock with Collins in Columbia and head back to Earth.
With the splashdown in the North Pacific on July 24, President Kennedy's challenge to the nation had been successfully fulfilled.
Over the next three and a half years I'd get to witness ten more Americans land on the moon and safely return.
I'd also in April 1970 agonize and pray with the rest of the world for the safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts after a service module oxygen tank explosion enroute to the moon cancelled the landing at Fra Mauro and they had the use the lunar module Aquarius as a 'lifeboat' to get home.
Gene Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 said as the Challenger prepared to leave the lunar surface on the final Apollo lunar mission in December 1972,"We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind."
It's past time this nation did so.