Kennedy’s goal accomplished - HISTORY
Year
1969

Kennedy’s goal accomplished

At 12:51 EDT, Apollo 11, the U.S. spacecraft that had taken the first astronauts to the surface of the moon, safely returns to Earth.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon had its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of 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.”

Eight years later, on July 16, 1969, the world watched as Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, separated from the command module, where a third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility.

Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.” At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. Seventeen minutes later, at 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke the following words to millions listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” A moment later, he stepped off the lunar module’s ladder, becoming the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

Aldrin joined him on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.” At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Mormons settle Salt Lake Valley

After 17 months and many miles of travel, Brigham Young leads 148 Mormon pioneers into Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Gazing over the parched earth of the remote location, Young declared, “This is the place,” and the pioneers began preparations for the thousands of Mormon ...read more

Mary Queen of Scots deposed

During her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle in Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots is forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, later crowned King James VI of Scotland.In 1542, while just six days old, Mary ascended to the Scottish throne upon the death of her father, King ...read more

Machu Picchu discovered

On July 24, 1911, American archeologist Hiram Bingham gets his first look at Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement in Peru that is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations.Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a ...read more

Lance Armstrong wins seventh Tour de France

On this day in 2005, American cyclist Lance Armstrong wins a record-setting seventh consecutive Tour de France and retires from the sport. After Armstrong survived testicular cancer, his rise to cycling greatness inspired cancer patients and fans around the world and ...read more

O. Henry is released from prison

William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry, is released from prison on this day, after serving three years in jail for embezzlement from a bank in Austin, Texas.To escape imprisonment, Porter had fled the authorities and hidden in Honduras, but returned when his wife, ...read more

Saving Private Ryan opens in theaters

On this day in 1998, the director Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, is released in theaters across the United States. The film, which starred Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, was praised for its authentic portrayal of war and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. ...read more

Hundreds drown in Eastland disaster

On this day in 1915, the steamer Eastland overturns in the Chicago River, drowning between 800 and 850 of its passengers who were heading to a picnic. The disaster was caused by serious problems with the boat’s design, which were known but never remedied.The Eastland was owned ...read more

Battle of Kernstown, Virginia

Confederate General Jubal Early defeats Union troops under General George Crook to keep the Shenandoah Valley clear of Yankees.On June 13, 1864, General Robert E. Lee sent Early north from Petersburg to clear the Shenandoah of Union troops and relieve pressure on his own ...read more

Hancock scolds Schuyler

Schuyler was likely ill-prepared to deal with the diversity of enlisted men under his command, coming mainly from the lower ranks of society. They were brought together only by their common desire to defeat the British. He himself had a much different background as the product ...read more

Operation Gomorrah is launched

On this day in 1943, British bombers raid Hamburg, Germany, by night in Operation Gomorrah, while Americans bomb it by day in its own “Blitz Week.”Britain had suffered the deaths of 167 civilians as a result of German bombing raids in July. Now the tables were going to turn. The ...read more