Moon landing celebrates milestone birthday

Astronaut stands beside the American flag while on the moon.

Perry Vlahos

Posted May 27, 2019


July marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

As far as human accomplishments go, arguably there’s none more extraordinary than humans traversing 384,000 kilometres of space to land, walk on the moon, and return safely to Earth. It’s made even more astonishing to think it was all done with technology of the 1960s.

Yes, to paraphrase the icons of that time – The Beatles – it was 50 years ago today that men made their way across the universe. Well, 20 July 1969 to be exact. For anyone living through those heady days, it would indeed change their world, with images of Apollo 11 rocketing into space imprinted in their memory until the end of their lives; it was that remarkable and significant.

The Apollo 11 mission was launched from Cape Canaveral, but it was known as Cape Kennedy during the Apollo missions to honour the assassinated president’s vision. 

Onboard the command module sitting on top of the giant Saturn V 3-stage rocket – far taller than the light towers of the MCG, were Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins. The journey took less than three days and Apollo 11 went into lunar orbit on arrival. 

Following some 30 lunar orbits, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the lunar module – named Eagle, separated from the command module – Columbia, leaving Collins behind, and descended to the moon’s surface with barely 25 seconds of fuel left in the tank. 

The date was Sunday night 20 July in the US, however, in Australia it was already Monday the 21st and a school day. Most local schools either gave the kids the afternoon off to watch the landing, or gathered them around a school television set to view proceedings in glorious black and white.

Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”, as he stepped onto our nearest neighbour, describing the surface dust as being fine and almost like a powder. Aldrin, on the other hand, said that it was, “Magnificent desolation”. 

They spent 2.5 hours walking around setting up experiments, taking pictures and collecting samples. They returned to Earth on 24 July with 21.2 kilograms of moon rocks for scientific study, leaving behind footprints that will be there for millions of years on the airless moon.

The area selected for the first landing of men on the Moon is called Mare Tranquillitatis, or the Sea of Tranquillity. It’s void of any water however and is a large, mainly smooth, basalt plain. The naked eye can distinguish it as one of the dark patches on the left side of the Moon as viewed from Australia. 

To commemorate this stupendous anniversary, the Astronomical Society of Victoria will be setting up large portable telescopes during July to show the public where the astronauts landed. To find out where and when, go to asv.org.au, or follow Perry Vlahos on Twitter @Perryastronomy


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