America Made History 50 Years Ago: Apollo 11 Moon Landing

On July 20, 1969, the astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on another world, famously marking the moment with the phrase: “That’s one small

step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” After months of preparation, preceded by years of development and testing, the crew of NASA’s Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida on July 16, arriving at the moon on July 19. While Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit, Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin descended to the surface and spent two and a half hours on the moon, setting up experiments, taking photos, and gathering samples. After their safe return home, the crew were celebrated by politicians and the public as they embarked on a 45-day goodwill tour, visiting a total of 27 cities in 24 countries. 

Below, 50 photos of the historic Apollo 11 mission, on the 50th anniversary of that giant leap.


A portrait of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, taken by his fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, standing on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Aldrin has his left arm raised and is likely reading the checklist sewn on the wrist cover of his glove.


On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts (from left) Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong head for the van that will take the crew to the rocket for launch to the moon at Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida.


The 363-foot (111-meter) Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 mission launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969.


Former President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Spiro Agnew view the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the stands located at the Kennedy Space Center VIP viewing site on July 16, 1969.


Members of the Kennedy Space Center government-industry team rise from their consoles within the Launch Control Center to watch the Apollo 11 liftoff through the large windows at the back of the firing room. Among those pictured is the American aerospace engineer JoAnn H. Morgan (seated center, with hand on chin), who at the time was NASA’s only female engineer. Read more about Morgan here: The Apollo Engineer Who Almost Wasn’t Allowed in the Control Room.


A tracking camera follows the Saturn V into the sky shortly after the launch.


Jan Armstrong looks skyward during the launch of Apollo 11, commanded by her husband, Neil Armstrong, on July 16, 1969.


A view of Earth shortly after the Apollo 11 crew reached orbit


About an hour into their flight, Armstrong took this photo of Aldrin


After one and a half orbits, a secondary burn pushed the spacecraft on a course toward the moon. Soon after, this photo was taken, looking back toward home.


On July 19, the Apollo 11 crew passed the moon, firing the CSM service propulsion system engine to slow into a lunar orbit.


After un-docking with the command-and-service module (CSM), the lunar module prepares for descent. Editor’s note: This image was previously misidentified as being taken after ascent.


A view of the CSM, piloted by Michael Collins, after undocking with the lunar module now carrying Armstrong and Aldrin to the surface. The eastern part of the Sea of Fertility passes by at about 120 miles (195 km) below


The CSM can be seen just left of the center of this image, with the sharp-rimmed Schmidt crater directly left of it. This is the last photo taken from the lunar module prior to the powered descent.


Just after touchdown on the moon, a panoramic view of the surface with a thruster on the foreground at left, and the lunar module’s shadow at right, seen through Armstrong’s window.


Buzz Aldrin jumps down to the top rung of the ladder of the lunar module, photographed by Armstrong, who had minutes before stepped out onto the surface, uttering the famous phrase “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This image was taken just prior to one described by Rebecca Boyle as The Most Compelling Photo of the Moon Landing.


Buzz Aldrin stands before the U.S. flag erected on the landing site. If you look closely, you can see Aldrin’s face through the visor, as he turns his head to look at Armstrong.


Rain-soaked New Yorkers watch TV outdoors and cheer as they see the Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first step on the lunar surface.


The sun directly behind him, Buzz Aldrin takes one of a series of photos for a panorama.


Aldrin made this footprint on an untouched area so he could photograph it for study by soil-mechanics experts.


The plaque left on the moon, attached to a strut on the lunar module. It reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”


An interior view of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, during the Apollo 11 lunar extravehicular activity (EVA).


One of the only clear photos of Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface, taken by Aldrin during their EVA.


A television split-screen shot shows President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office speaking with the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walk on the lunar surface, on July 20, 1969.


Jan Armstrong, the wife of Neil Armstrong, sits on the floor with her two sons, attentively watching television at home as the lunar module landed on the moon.


A close-up view of Buzz Aldrin as he walks on the moon, with a reflected view of the lunar module and his photographer, Neil Armstrong, visible in Buzz’s visor.


While Aldrin and Armstrong were working on the surface, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit aboard the CSM, flying solo for about 24 hours.


Aldrin prepares to remove the passive seismometer from the lander.


A view of Earth in the black sky above the lunar module.


Aldrin deploys the solar panels of the seismometer. In the background, we can see the TV camera, the U.S. flag, the lunar module, and the lunar laser ranging retroreflector (LRRR), used to measure the distance from the surface of the Earth to the moon using lasers.


Sunlight fills part of a panorama, showing the southern part of Little West Crater on the left side


A photograph of the lunar module by Armstrong, taken from about 150 feet away


After two and a half hours of walking on the moon, the astronauts returned to the lunar module. Aldrin took this picture of Armstrong in the cabin after.


A last glance at the lunar surface before ascent, the nearby ground marked by boot prints, with a TV camera and a flag left standing


Back in lunar orbit on July 21, 1969


The crew prepares to depart the moon, leaving the lunar module behind, with Earth visible above the horizon. The LM was jettisoned into an unstable lunar orbit. The orbit decayed, and the lander eventually crashed back onto the moon, but its exact location was not tracked by NASA


On the way home, a look back at the moon, a small part of it newly marked by human bootprints


The Apollo 11 crew approaches Earth on their return trip.


On July 24, 1969, the three Apollo 11 astronauts successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Here, the crew and a U.S. Navy underwater-demolition-team swimmer await pickup by a helicopter from the recovery ship USS Hornet. All four men are wearing biological-isolation garments.


In Texas, Pat Collins (in red), the wife of the Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins, celebrates while watching the splashdown and the successful end of the mission with a houseful of friends.


NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center officials join the flight controllers in celebrating the conclusion of the Apollo 11 mission.


The Apollo 11 astronauts, inside a Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard Nixon as he welcomes them back to Earth and for a job well done, on July 25, 1969


On August 13, 1969, crowds line 42nd Street in New York City, cheering the Apollo 11 astronauts en route to the United Nations. Sitting high in the open car are (from left) Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong. In the seat directly in front of them are New York Mayor John Lindsay and UN Secretary General U Thant.


Later, also on August 13, 1969, the City of Chicago welcomed the three Apollo 11 astronauts with another ticker-tape parade.


The Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong; his wife, Jan; and sons Ricky and Mark are engulfed by ticker tape as they ride down Houston’s Main Street in a parade honoring the astronauts on August 16, 1969.


The Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins has trouble keeping his balance on the back of a car as hand-shaking admirers won’t let go of his arm as he passes during a Canal Street parade in New Orleans on September 6, 1969.


The Apollo 11 astronauts Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong appear before a joint session of Congress on September 16, 1969. Behind them are Vice President Spiro Agnew (left) and Speaker of the House John McCormick.


The astronauts wear sombreros and ponchos as they are swarmed by thousands in Mexico City when their motorcade was slowed by the enthusiastic crowd on September 23, 1969.


Original caption: “To be carried on daddy’s back was the only opportunity for this German boy to get a real Astronaut handshake by Edwin Aldrin when the three Apollo 11 astronauts passed through the crowded city of Cologne after arrival for a two day visit to Germany, October 12, 1969.”


A final look—a portrait at the beginning, taken only months before, on January 10, 1969, the day after NASA announced their names as the prime crew for the lunar landing mission. From left to right are Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Commander Neil Armstrong, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, photographed in front of a lunar module mock-up beside Building 1 at what is now Johnson Space Center.

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