The world marked Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing as a powerful testament to collective efforts in problem-solving and finding peaceful solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.
American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969, their “giant leap” fueled by Cold War rivalry and youthful ambition personified in John F. Kennedy’s presidential declaration that the point of it was to rise to a challenge.
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too,” Kennedy said in his 1962 “Moon speech” at Rice University.
The wondrous moments after astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins left Columbia’s lunar orbit and landed in the lunar module Eagle at the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility — culminating in Armstrong’s first step and famous saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — imprinted the generations who watched it unfold on television.
“Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the now 89-year-old Aldrin showed off the pad that launched him and the others to the Moon.
Armstrong died in 2012 and Collins, now 88, did not attend the ceremony. Pence also said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration wants to send American astronauts to the Moon within five years and then to Mars.
Today marks the #Apollo50th anniversary! On 20 July 1969 EDT, a crewed @NASA spacecraft landed on the #LunarSurface for the first time in history. This iconic moment has, and will continue to, inspire further #SpaceExploration and scientific discovery#Apollo50th #MoonLanding pic.twitter.com/PP6cRDiQvt
— UNOOSA (@UNOOSA) July 20, 2019
Remembrance of a visit
The United Nations marked the anniversary remembering the visit that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins paid to the global organization’s New York headquarters several weeks after their return to Earth.
Then-U.N. Secretary-General U Thant hosted the astronauts’ visit on 13 August, 1969 and said they had “already taken their place in that select roster of men, who down through the centuries have demonstrated the power of man’s vision, man’s purpose, and man’s determination.”
Taking note of his surroundings during the U.N. visit, Armstrong made a pitch for world peace.
“I can tell that you share with us, the hope that we citizens of Earth, who can solve the problems of leaving Earth, can also solve the problems of staying on it,” he said.
The astronauts also brought to U.N. headquarters a replica of the plaque they left on the Moon that read: “Here men from the planet Earth set foot upon the Moon, July 1969. We came in peace, for all mankind.”
This iconic milestone marked a historic new phase in space exploration and inspired humanity beyond space activities, said Simonetta di Pippo, an Italian astrophysicist who is the director of the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, or UNOOSA.
“Space exploration and innovation has excelled over the years and we see present and coming planetary missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets in our solar system,” Di Pippo told the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS, last April.
“As international cooperation in space affairs continues to advance,” she said, “we are also seeing increased interest in other bodies of the solar system, including moons of planets and asteroids.”