THE ghostly, white-clad figure slowly descended the ladder. Having reached the bottom rung, he lowered himself into the bowl-shaped footpad of Eagle, the spindly lunar module of Apollo 11. Then he extended his left foot, cautiously, tentatively, as if testing water in a pool—and, in fact, testing a wholly new environment for man. That groping foot, encased in a heavy multi-layered boot (size 9½B), would remain indelible in the minds of millions who watched it on TV, and a symbol of man's determination to step—and forever keep stepping—toward the unknown.
After a few short but interminable seconds, U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong placed his foot firmly on the fine-grained surface of the moon. The time was 10:56 p.m. (E.D.T.), July 20, 1969. Pausing briefly, the first man on the moon spoke the first words on lunar soil:
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
With a cautious, almost shuffling gait, the astronaut began moving about in the harsh light of the lunar morning. "The surface is fine and powdery, it adheres in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the soles and sides of my foot," he said. "I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles." Minutes later, Armstrong was joined by Edwin Aldrin. Then, gaining confidence with every step, the two jumped and loped across the barren land scape for 2 hrs. 14 min., while the TV camera they had set up some 50 ft. from Eagle transmitted their movements with remarkable clarity to enthralled audiences on earth, a quarter of a million miles away. Sometimes moving in surrealistic slow motion, sometimes bounding around in the weak lunar gravity like exuberant kangaroos, they set up experiments and scooped up rocks, snapped pictures and probed the soil, apparently enjoying every moment of their stay in the moon's alien environment.
After centuries of dreams and prophecies, the moment had come. Man had broken his terrestrial shackles for the first time and set foot on another world. Standing on the lifeless, rock-studded surface he could see the earth, a lovely blue and white hemisphere suspended in the velvety black sky. The spectacular view might well help him place his problems, as well as his world, in a new perspective.
Although the Apollo 11 astronauts planted an American flag on the moon, their feat was far more than a national triumph.* It was a stunning scientific and intellectual accomplishment for a creature who, in the space of a few million years—an instant in evolutionary chronology—emerged from primeval forests to hurl himself at the stars. Its eventual effect on human civilization is a matter of conjecture. But it was in any event a shining reaffirmation of the optimistic premise that whatever man imagines he can bring to pass.
It was appropriate that the event was watched by ordinary citizens in Prague as well as Paris, Bucharest as well as Boston, Warsaw as well as Wapakoneta, Ohio. In practically every other corner of the earth, newspapers broke out what pressmen refer to as their "Second Coming" type to hail the lunar landing. Poets hymned the occasion. Wrote Archibald MacLeish:
silver evasion in our farthest thought—
"the visiting moon" . . . "the glimpses of the moon" . . .