SPACE CENTER, Houston, June 20, 1969 (UPI) - Man reached the moon Sunday at 4:17:45 p.m. EDT. Then, for the first time, he set his foot on the soil of an alien world.
The first step, by 38-year-old civilian Neil A. Armstrong, hit the lunar dust at 10:56:20 p.m. EDT, about 6 1/2 hours after Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. landed their spaceship Eagle on the lunar surface.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong's first words as his foot touched the lunar soil which he likened to powdered charcoal.
A worldwide television audience watched man's first footfall in a world other than his own.
It was Armstrong's left foot - shod in a space boot 6 inches wide, 13 inches long, and with a zig-zag sole tread - that impacted first.
The step was a dramatic moment in a day jammed with such moments - the landing itself, and Armstrong's superb calm when he overrode the automatic pilot of the lunar lander which was taking the spaceship toward a boulder field, and manually steered himself and Aldrin free of almost certain disaster.
The first view that millions of earth viewers saw of the moonwalk was Armstrong's foot pawing the air as he descended the 9 rungs on the aluminum ladder leading to the lunar surface.
It was a world of harsh sunlight and black shadows, but the picture was amazingly clear.
"There's going to be no difficulty in moving around," he said, first testing man's equilibrium on the lunar surface, where gravity is one sixth that of earth.
While Armstrong handled the camera, Aldrin, 39, then crawled from the space ship and joined Armstrong on the lunar surface at 11:16 p.m. EDT. The world got even a better picture of the second man to step onto the moon.
While Armstrong and Aldrin carried out the historic moon walk, the third man of the Apollo team, Michael Collins, a 38-year-old Air Force lieutenant colonel kept the mother ship in a 69 mile high lunar orbit, waiting for his colleagues to rendezvous with him Monday morning for the return trip to earth.
Before stepping from the front porch of the Eagle, Aldrin said he partially closed the hatch, "making sure not to lock it on my way out."
"Ha! Good thought," said Armstrong.
"It's our home for the next couple of hours. We want to take good care of it," Aldrin said.
"Magnificent desolation," were Aldrin's first words on the lunar surface.
"Isn't it fun?" asked Armstrong.
The scientifically-bent Aldrin allowed that it was hard to tell whether some of the objects on the moon were clods or rocks.
"It bounces," he said, apparently kicking an object.
"Hey, Neil, didn't I say we'd see some purple rocks," said Aldrin a while later.
"Find a purple rock?" Armstrong asked.
"Yep," was Aldrin's reply.
President Nixon, following the flight on television like millions of others around the world, called the two astronauts after they planted the flag.
"Because of what you have done the heavens have become part of man's world," Nixon said in a two-minute call that spanned 250,000 miles of space.
"Thank you, Mr. President. It's a great honor and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, men with interest and curiosity and men with a vision for the future. It's an honor for us to be able to participate here today," Armstrong responded. Nixon replied: "Thank you very much and I look forward, all of us look forward to seeing you on the Hornet on Thursday."
It took the astronauts nearly a minute to get the U.S. flag firmly planted in the lunar soil. A wire held the flag out so it would "fly" on the airless surface of the moon.
The astronauts then did kangaroo hops and leaps, to demonstrate the miracles earth muscles can perform in the lesser gravity of the moon.
Throughout it all the calm voices of the space fliers called out their final altitude figures in their drop toward the lunar surface.
At 220 feet: "Coming down nicely."
At 75 feet: "Looking good."
At 30 feet: "Pickup some dust."
Then, finally, at 4:17:45 p.m. Armstrong radioed the first words from the surface:
"Contact light. Okay, engine stop. ACA (Altitude Control Assembly) out of detent. Mode controls both auto, descent engine command override, off. Engine arm, off 413 is in."
Ground control, Houston: "We copy you, Eagle."
Armstrong: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
Ground Control: "Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."
So technically smooth was the lunar landing and so confident were Armstrong and Aldrin that they went ahead with their moonwalk Sunday night rather than waiting until Monday morning.
At the time of the landing, the moon was about 238,548 miles from earth. Michael Collins, the third astronaut of the Apollo 11 team, kept the command ship Columbia in a 69 mile high lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin eased their way down.
Collins would have been able to swoop in and rescue his colleagues, had anything gone wrong with the descent, but now they are on the lunar surface, they are beyond his reach.
One of the few problems during the descent occurred when Armstrong observed the Eagle's automatic guidance system was heading the ship into a rough landing site.
He told ground control:
"Houston, that seemed like a very long final phase. The auto target was taking us right into a football field size crater with a lot of boulders ... it required us flying manually over the rockfield to find a real good area."
Armstrong skimmed the spaceship about 200 feet above the crater and landed four miles downrange from the proposed landing bullseye on the lunar Sea of Tranquility.
NASA said the landing site appeared to be at .799 degrees north latitude and 23.46 degrees east longitude.
They had 55 seconds of fuel left for the descent engine when they landed.
"Very smooth touchdown," confirmed Aldrin.
Ground Controller Charles M. Duke then told Collins in the command ship:
"He has landed, Tranquility Base. Eagle is in Tranquility."
Collins, like Armstrong is 38 years old, and is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. Aldrin, 39, a full Air Force colonel, has been called one of the best scientific minds America has ever sent into space, and it did not take long for him to put that mind to work:
"We'll get to the details of what's around here, but it looks like a collection of just about every variety of shape, angularity, granularity and every variety of rock you could find. The color, well it varies pretty much depending on how you're looking ... . There doesn't appear to be much of a general color at all. However, it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders - of which there are quite a few in the near area - it looks as though they're going to have some interesting colors to them."