Forty-five years ago today, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon, uttering the immortal words “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The landing came just eight years after then U.S. president John F. Kennedy announced the goal of a manned landing on the Moon.
"I believe that 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," he said during a nationally televised speech before Congress on May 25, 1961.
At that time the dream of going to the Moon must have felt as distant as the Moon itself, as it had been less than a month since Alan Shepard became the first American in space.
It wasn’t until 1962 that John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.
Over the next 7 years, the U.S. space agency NASA engaged in the so-called space race with the then Soviet Union to see which superpower could reach the Moon first.
NASA’s path involved numerous missions into space, each more complex, each laying a piece of the groundwork toward an eventual Moon landing.
On July 21, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin flew the Eagle spacecraft to the Moon’s surface, hours later, Armstrong emerged from the vehicle and took the historic step. It is estimated that a half billion people around the world watched the grainy feed.
Legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, who had become an icon through his coverage of the space age was visibly moved by the footage, famously saying "after seeing it happen, knowing it happened, it still seems like a dream."
Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, collecting samples and conducting experiments.
They left behind a U.S. flag and a plaque that reads: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
NASA would send men to the moon five more times, with the final mission coming in 1972.
Here's complete NASA coverage of the Moon landing: