One Small Step for Man
50th anniversary of the moon landings

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most remarkable technological achievement to date.

On 20th July, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on another world. Altogether only 12 people have achieved this remarkable feat. The last were, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972 on Apollo 17.

Apollo Program

Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk - Original NASA EVA Mission Video - Walking on the Moon

Since then human activity in space has been restricted to a space station or two in near Earth orbit, the occasional probe to take a look at some distant body and of course countless piece of space junk that allow your smart phone to tell you exactly where you are, the latest gossip from Love Island and what your ‘friends’ had for breakfast.

Key dates in Space exploartion

The greatest technological giant leaps by human kind seems destined to count for not a great deal more than the smallest of steps in man’s social life in the great scheme of things. Apart from several tons of mostly useless moon rocks, the none stick pan and a small but dynamic industry in conspiracy theories*, the Apollo programme has left us little.

Apollo's legacy

Landing on the moon had no practical purpose. It could yield no economic benefit. And it cost a rather large fortune. So what was it all about?

It was the culmination of what was called in the 1960’s ‘The Space Race’. And what, I hear a more enlightened generation ask, was ‘The Space Race?’

Time for a bit of potted history.

It all began in 1957 when the Russians, who were them known as the Soviets at the time (it would take another bit of potted history to explain why they were called the Soviets which I don’t have time for), decided that they had had enough of cowering under the threat of the USA’s atomic arsenal in a ‘Cold War’ (more potted history required here ... that I am not going to provide) which they couldn’t win. So they started a whole new ‘our superpower is more super than your superpower’ competition by putting the first satellite into space called Sputnik.

Sputnik was an innocuous metal ball, with big sticks sticking out of it, that orbited the Earth for 3 weeks sending creepy ‘Beep’ noises, before falling to back to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere.


On the one hand, it was nothing more than a footnote in potted history. On the other hand, however it was a statement. A statement so big that the two biggest superpowers of the day decided to divert significant parts of their entire economies away from threatening to blow each other to bits – or rather getting other people to blow each other to bits on their behalf – and towards becoming the first to put something on the moon. It didn’t really matter at first what they actually put on the moon. A can of Coke would probably have done for the American. Lenin’s jock strap would have sufficed for the USSR ( another name for Russia at the time.)

Just as the Americans were warming to the challenge by launching a weather balloon or two, the Soviets won the race by landing Luna 2 on the moon. Ok ‘landing’ is it a bit strong. Luna 2 crash landed on the moon, but it was an improvement on Luna 1 which missed altogether. Then just to rub it in, they put a man into orbit.

Early rocket failures

Game set and match to the CCCP ( yet another name for Russia at the time.)

Not to be down hearted by loosing ‘The Space Race’ before it had really begun, the Americans promptly moved the goal posts.

President Kennedy, famous largely for being assassinated, and having an affair with Marilyn Munroe, managed to make a promise in 1962 that the USA would “... put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of this decade.”

Kennedy's Speech

Now this was: considering the considerable, and almost insurmountable technological issues that needed to be solved; the fact that the Soviets had got someone into orbit and had actually landed a probe on the moon; USA had only pinged one Al Shepard into the upper atmosphere, on a 20 min ballistic missile trip by then; a pretty hopeful statement. It did however kick the finish line for ‘The Space Race’ far enough down the road to give the USA a fighting chance of winning.

It is a tribute to the thousands of men and women involved in the USA’s space project that: against the odds; after a fatal fire on board Apollo 1; endless delays to the lunar lander; a dodgy trip around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 with fingers well and truly crossed; a near disaster on Apollo 10 which was 2 seconds away from crashing into the moon, though no one seems to mention this; Apollo 11 managed to land on the moon just in time to meet Kennedy’s arbitrary deadline and to officially ‘win’ ‘The Space Race’ with one of the most memorable quotes in history.^

Apollo 1

Apollo 8

Apollo 10

*One of the most enduring legacies of the moon landings are the conspiracy theories. There loads of them. They are generally based on the simple fact that it was just about impossible to actually get humans to the moon, let them walk around for a bit and bring them back. Rather than that being the basis for being amazed that they actually managed to do it, some have used it as the basis to come up with all manner of whacky theories as to how and why the USA faked the moon landings. It says a lot about the human race that this pile of fetid dingo’s kidneys still get air time on that other legacy of the Apollo programme, the internet.

Moon Landing Conspiracy

^“It’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind,” is at first glance a pretty cool thing to say as you become the first person to walk on another world. Neil Armstrong claimed that he had planned it. It was just something that came to him on the spur of the moment. This itself has been to basis for a conspiracy theory. However, I can believe it because a brief analysis of the statement shows it to be a load of bollocks. It is in fact a sort of tautology. Whilst at the same time contradicting itself. In this statement man is used to mean mankind. Therefore the statement reads, ‘This is one small step for mankind. One giant lead for mankind.’ What he should have said was, ‘This is one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind. But he didn’t.

One Small Step ...

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