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None of the astronauts slept very long before awakening to the most momentous day of their lives. Collins got six hours, Aldrin and Armstrong five apiece. During Apollo's eleventh revolution of the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong donned their space suits and crawled through a tunnel for a final checkout of the lunar module before its long separation from the command module. They paid particular attention to Eagle's propulsion systems—the tanks containing the hypergolic fuels that fire the descent and ascent engines, and the pressure gauges on the helium that forces the fuels into the combustion chambers, where they burn upon contact with one another. Efficient and businesslike, they completed the check 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Two minutes before the spacecraft disappeared behind the moon on its 13th revolution, Houston advised: "We're go for undocking." Tense minutes followed until the spacecraft emerged from the far side and Armstrong reported that Eagle had wings.
Thus did Armstrong and Aldrin set out on that last, epochal one-hundredth of 1% of the outbound journey. Some nine hours later, while Columbia was out of contact on the far side of the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin stepped down from the ungainly looking Eagle—and into history. It was a moment that would surely survive long after the criticism that has accompanied every step of the space program is forgotten—understandable as that criticism may be in view of the pressing problems back on earth. It was, too, a moment that symbolized man's wondrous capacity for questing, then conquering, then questing yet again for something just beyond his reach. But the black vastness that served as a backdrop for the two astronauts' walk on the moon also was a reminder of something else. Stargazer, now star-reacher, man inhabits a smallish planet of an ordinary sun in a garden-variety galaxy that occupies the tiniest corner of a universe whose scope is beyond comprehension.
* In any case, the U.S. could not have claimed sovereignty over the moon, even if it had been so inclined. A treaty drafted in 1966, and since signed by both Washington and Moscow, asserts that the moon is terra nullius, or no-man's-land, open to exploration and use by all nations.