On This Day: Moon landings

Julian Gavaghan
British Pathé

July 20, 1969: The first manned spacecraft landed on the Moon on this day in 1969 – an achievement that marked the pinnacle of the Space Race.

Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins safely touched town at 8.17pm GMT as millions around the world excitedly watched on TV.

[Neil Armstrong's ashes are scattered at sea]

Back at the Mission Control Centre in Houston there were cries of joy and relief from Nasa technicians when Armstrong uttered the famous words: 'The Eagle has landed.'

Six hours later, he took the first ever steps on the Moon and even more famously declared: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'

Minutes later he was joined by Buzz Aldrin and the two jumped across the landscape before planting the American flag.

They also unveiled a plaque inscribed with U.S. President Nixon's signature and the words: 'Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.'

Back at the White House, President Nixon was filmed speaking to the astronauts and praised their feat, which instantly spark conspiracy theories that it was staged.

[On This Day: Disastrous Disneyland opening]

He added: 'This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made.'

But, while Westerners could instantly marvel at live images beamed into their homes, people living behind the Iron Curtain had to wait 14 hours before they found out.

The news was sombrely announced by Moscow Radio at 10.30am GMT (2.30pm local time) on July 21, 1969.

It meant that the Soviet Union - the communist state that had notched up most of the cosmic firsts, including the first man in orbit – had effectively lost the Space Race.

The fulfilment of President John F Kennedy’s 1960 promise to put men on the moon by the end of the decade confirmed their Cold War enemy’s technological superiority.

However, few people at the time realised just how close the USSR came to dashing JFK’s dream.

The secretive Soviets kept under wraps the fact that, 17 days earlier, its own N1 moon rocket exploded seconds after lift-off, causing the biggest non-nuclear blast in history.

Details of the explosion, which was powerful enough to level a town the size of Luton, were only revealed after the fall of communism in the 1990s.

[On This Day: First satellite transmission]

The lid was also lifted on how the Russians kept on trying – and failing – with ten launches between 1969 and 1974, when its moon programme was axed.

Nasa successfully landed six manned shuttles on the moon between 1969 and 1972 when the U.S. government ended its expensive programme.

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