Over the Moon

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Retrospectively, it might look a tiny little expedition, going to the Moon, as when a farther planet, Mars, looks within reach. And possibilities of man going to other planets abound. But back then it indeed was a giant leap for the human kind, considering where we were in terms of space technology. Fifty years ago yesterday, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and lesser known Buzz Aldrin were the first in history to land on the Moon. They touched down on July 20, 1969 after four day travel from earth.

When Armstrong placed his foot on the lunar surface, he uttered the famous words which are now part of history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Michael Collins, 88, was the third crew that took off that day. While Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface of the Moon, Collins remained in lunar orbit, providing the ground crew with updates on the mission. He has some vivid recollections of what he was able to see with his naked eye from that vintage point.

On the 50th anniversary of the event, the United States has advanced the deadline to return to the Moon by four years.  Now the mission is scheduled to depart in 2024. This time around when people go to the Moon, it will not be a mere touch and go; they will be going there for an extended period of time.

This all happened during the Cold War when the US and the erstwhile USSR were in mad race for technological superiority in the space. The race for conquering the space was long and hard and went on for well over a decade. The USSR which had many first to its credit – first satellite named Sputnik and the first-ever human spaceflight that launched Yuri Gagarin on an orbital mission – lost out to the steady but sure and with deeper pockets US courtesy the Apollo missions. It was the Americans’ leap of faith that led to that “giant leap for mankind.”

If for nothing else, this is one thing, the whole world owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the US for.