On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin floated high above the lifeless surface of the moon in a boxy, four-legged landing vehicle named the Eagle. The radio hissed, and a voice called across space from Mission Control in Houston, a quarter of a million miles away: “You are go for powered descent.” An engine fired, and the fragile craft began its downward journey.
It would not go exactly as planned. Alarm signals flashed inside the tiny cabin, warning that Eagle’s computer was overloaded. As the spacecraft hurtled toward the surface, engineers in Houston had seconds to decide whether to abort the mission.
“Eagle, you are a go for landing,” they directed. The astronauts continued their descent, but when Armstrong looked out the window to study the moon’s surface, he realized they were not where they should be. The computer was supposed to guide the Eagle to a smooth landing area. It had overshot the mark by four miles and was heading toward a crater of jagged boulders.
Another warning light blinked. They were running out of landing fuel. Armstrong took command from the computer. The Eagle scooted over ridges and craters as he searched for a place to set down. The low-fuel signal flashed. There was no turning back now. A cloud of dust rose toward the Eagle. Silence . . . and then Neil Armstrong’s voice crackled to Earth across the gulf of space: “The Eagle has landed.”
A few hours later, Armstrong and then Aldrin stepped onto the moon’s surface. Together they planted a U.S. flag. When they departed, they left behind a plaque bearing this message:
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969, A.D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
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