It’s been 45 years since Neil Armstrong famously said that he was taking, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he became the first man to step on the moon.
It was July 20, 1969 and the United States was divided over the war in Vietnam, rocked by civil rights protests and still reeling from the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. But the nation came together that summer to follow the spaceflight of Apollo 11 with its lofty mission of landing the first people on the moon.
The flight took off from Florida’s Cape Kennedy on July 16 carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins into space.
After four days in space, Armstrong stepped onto the moon with Aldrin following, 20 minutes later. The two spent over 21 hours on the moon’s surface before the spacecraft returned to the U.S.
NASA estimates 530 million people watched the historic landing that buoyed the nation as it raced against the former Soviet Union to put a man on the moon.
Since then, twelve United States astronauts have walked on the moon in a total of six flights, most recently in 1972. No other country has had a person walk on the moon but nations have come together to explore space through the International Space Station that has been in continuous occupation since 2000.