Forty Years Ago Today: Apollo 11 Lands on the Moon

Forty years ago this evening, a man walked on the moon for the first time, a moment that will stand for millennia as one of humanity's most remarkable achievements.

At 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the Apollo 11 lunar module as millions watched on television worldwide and his colleague Buzz Aldrin waited to follow.

"One small step for a man," Armstrong famously said as he set foot on the last rung, then took the three-foot jump to the moon's surface. "One giant leap for mankind."

Fifteen minutes later, Aldrin joined him. The two spent about two and a half hours outside, during which time they collected rock samples, deployed instruments, planted a pre-stiffened American flag and spoke with President Richard Nixon.

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They took dozens of photographs, most of them with Armstrong holding the camera. As a result, almost all the photos showing a man on the moon during Apollo 11 are of Aldrin.

After their extravehicular activities, the two men re-entered the capsule and slept. Finally, at 1:54 p.m. EDT on July 21, they lifted of in the Lunar Ascent Module to rejoin their colleague Michael Collins in orbit around the moon to begin the journey back to Earth.

Earlier on July 20, at 4:17 p.m. EDT, the Eagle lunar lander carrying Armstrong and Aldrin had touched down in the Sea of Tranquility.

"The Eagle has landed," said Armstrong as hundreds of NASA workers and journalists back at Mission Control in Houston cheered.

"You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue here," exhaled Charles Duke, the capsule communicator, or "CAPCOM," who acted as the liaison between the astronauts and the rest of Mission Control. "We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!"

What the general public didn't realize was that Aldrin and Armstrong had overshot their planned destination and had less than half a minute's worth of fuel left in the lander when they came to rest on the far side of a crater.

"It was so gentle that you couldn't really tell the exact moment that you touched down," Aldrin told FOX News' Greta Van Susteren earlier this year. "Just [that] it stopped moving."

The two men then spent the next several hours in the capsule checking instruments, surveying the terrain outside through the lunar module's windows and eating a meal.

Aldrin also privately took communion, a detail he did not disclose publicly for years for fear of a lawsuit from litigious atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who had taken NASA to court over Jim Lovell's reading from the Book of Genesis as Apollo 8 circled the moon the previous Christmas Eve.

The mission schedule had called for the two astronauts to sleep before waking up again and going on their first walk on the moon, but as Aldrin put it, "you're not gonna land on the moon and be able to go to sleep right away."

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