Who was the first man to land on the Moon?

For many centuries man had been dreaming of space travel and exploration of extra-terrestrial lands. The first concrete step in this direction was taken by the Russians when they launched the artificial satellite Sputnik I on 4 October, 1957. A month later on 3 November, 1957 a bigger Sputnik II was sent into the space. It took along, the first living creature, a dog named Liaka. Following closely on the heels of the Russians, the United States launched its first satellite Explorer I, on 31 January, 1958 triggering off a race between the two countries in space research. The first man in space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the earth on 12 April, 1961 in Vostok I.

In 1961, America started the famous Apollo project which was aimed at taking man to the Moon. It was an ambitious project with hurdles at every step. On 27 January, 1967 the Apollo project had a serious setback. During a practice session the astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were burnt to death in a fire aboard the spacecraft. This tragedy led to many modifications in the design of the spacecraft.

In July 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins went to the Moon in Apollo – 11. On 20 July, 1969 at 10.56 p.m. (GMT) Neil Armstrong put his first step on the surface of the Moon. He sent the message to the Earth, ‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’. A little later, Aldrin also landed on the Moon. Michael Collins remained in the spacecraft. Armstrong and Aldrin stayed on the Moon for 21 hours and 35 minutes.

After this, four successful landings of the Apollo on the Moon followed. The final landing was on 11 December, 1972 by Apollo 17. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent 74 hours and 59 minutes on the moon and returned with 113.6 kg of lunar material. The first Indian to go to the space was Sq. Ldr. Rakesh Sharma in a joint Indo-Soviet flight on 3 April, 1984.

So far a total of 12 Americans walked on the Moon during the Apollo programme, bringing back 380 kg of rocks and soil. They have moved about 100 km of the lunar surface in a total time of 166 hours.