for National Geographic News
On July 20, 1969, at 10:56 p.m. ET, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped off the "Eagle" onto the surface of the moon and said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Thirty-five years later, Steven Dick, NASA's chief historian at the space agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said that a thousand years from now, that step may be considered the crowning achievement of the 20th century.
"Putting a man on the moon not only inspired the nation, but also the world," Dick said. "The 1960s were a tumultuous time in the U.S., and the moon landing showed what could be accomplished at a time when much else was going wrong."
Armstrong's step was the culmination of a goal set forth by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961. In a speech before a joint session of Congress, the President had announced his objective of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth" before the end of the decade.
The goal set in motion Project Apollo. Armstrongtogether with astronauts Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.,lifted off on the Apollo 11 mission on July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:32 a.m. ET.
About 76 hours later, the spacecraft entered lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin boarded the lunar module, known as the Eagle, for descent to the lunar surface. There, it landed in a region called the Sea of Tranquility at 4:18 p.m. ET.
Armstrong took his historic step six hours later, as millions of people around the world watched on television. The landing drew the largest television audience for any live event up until that time.
Jeffrey Bennett, a noted astronomy teacher and writer, said that accomplishing Kennedy's goal gave society great hope for the future.
"There are many ways to show people the great possibilities of the future, but I'd argue that the visibility of the moon in the sky [is] more powerful than any other single source of inspiration," said Bennet, who is affiliated with the Center for Astrophysics and Astronomy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The inspiration provided by the goal of sending humans to the moon is credited for laying the groundwork for, and making widely available, a host of technologies that society depends on today.
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