Apollo 11's Giant Leap for Mankind:
40 years ago, the lunar module landed on the moon, providing an unforgettable moment for the millions watching back on Earth
The Eagle landed on July 20, 1969. For those who watched the Apollo 11 astronauts park their lunar lander on Tranquility Base—in my case, on a grainy black-and-white television in a small house in the hills above Los Angeles—the fact that Neil Armstrong's "one giant leap for mankind" took place 40 years ago can only come as a shock. Slowly down the ladder went the first human being to step onto the moon, clumsy in his spacesuit, and we knew we were witnessing a moment we would never forget.
The lunar module that transported Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the gritty surface of the moon was a two-section invention built by the Grumman Corporation. The bottom unit consisted essentially of four landing struts equipped with a retrorocket to cushion the descent. It would remain on the moon after the upper section, also rocket-propelled, carried the astronauts back to the command module, piloted by Michael Collins.
In five subsequent lunar landings, the same type of craft would be used to deliver ten astronauts from command modules to the moon. All the landers were left behind, the bases remaining where they touched down. After astronauts returned to the modules, they jettisoned the transport capsules, which crashed into the moon or vanished into space.
Today, lunar lander LM-2 ("LM" is shorthand for Lunar Excursion Module) remains earthbound—a 40-year-old vehicle that never got off the launchpad. It is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C.