Remembering man's first steps on the moon

It's been 50 years since the US launched Apollo 11, the first mission to land men on the moon.

PARIS - It was 10:56 pm at mission control in Houston on 20 July 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon.

Several journalists were dispatched to cover the exploit, which was broadcast live from the Moon's Sea of Tranquility to NASA's Johnson Space Center and on to televisions around the world. 

This is their summary from that day 50 years ago.

- The conquest of the Moon - 

On Sunday at 10:56 pm US time (0256 GMT), Armstrong - after seemingly never-ending suspense - steps on the Moon.

A few hours earlier the mission commander had suddenly announced to the world that he would exit the lunar module five hours earlier than planned.

The descent for man's first steps on the Moon gets under way. 

At 10:56pm Armstrong puts his left foot on the surface of the Moon and declares: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

Before fully putting his foot down, the commander had carefully felt out the surface with his boot to check its solidity.

READ: When the world stopped to watch Armstrong's moonwalk

"I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles," he says, surprised, taking his first steps.

"There seems to be no difficulty in moving around - as we suspected. It's even perhaps easier than the simulations... ."

He moves with seeming ease, millions of people back on Earth watching and listening as the images are beamed back live onto televisions in homes around the world.

- American flag -

It is now 11:15 pm. Armstrong has already spent 19 minutes alone on the Moon, 19 minutes during which, in the indefinable solitude of the dead planet, he has demonstrated perfect composure.

At that moment Buzz Aldrin makes a bounding appearance. Reassured by Armstrong's experience, he boldly jumps off the ladder, also putting down his left foot first.

The two men, in an act of patriotism, plant the US flag into the Moon. They then read aloud from a plaque, fixed to the spacecraft's front landing gear, that is inscribed: "Here Men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." 

READ: How conspiracy theories followed man to the Moon

Having accomplished this symbolic gesture, they go on to move a camera that is fixed to the module and streaming images of the white surface of the Moon, its horizon slanted on a very black background. 

It sends back a panoramic view: the lunar module against a background of countless miniscule craters with oversized shadows and, far off, the horizon, a clearly curved line demarcating the Moon's surface, glittering under the Sun's light, and the black abyss of the universe.

The image becomes clearer. One can make out the footprints of the astronauts on the grey-white surface, the firmly planted star-spangled banner.

The two men advance with surprising lightness, as if dancing. A strange ballet is taking place on the Moon. Their heavy spacesuits - fireproofed armour with reinforced joints and weighed down by the survival backpacks - seem no bother.

- Dead star? -

At 00:15am the collection of samples is over, the astronauts having gathered 27-28 kilogrammes of Moon stones and rock.

The first mission accomplished, they now have to set up two instruments that will be left on the Moon: a seismograph and a laser reflector.

Meant to function for a year, its installation is the astronauts' main objective as its data should show whether the Moon is a dead star or not.

READ: The Moon is shrinking: study

The two instruments are in place. Working non-stop, the astronauts all the time continued to pass on to the Houston control center their impressions and observations.

Armstrong signals that he has spotted, around the module, endless small craters, which he compares to holes caused by a BB shot pellet gun.

- Moon curse? -

The mission comes to an end. The astronauts pack up, leaving on the Moon the 11,000-dollar camera which had so faithfully recorded their movements and transmitted them back to Earth, as well as the tools they used. 

Armstrong has now been outside for more than two hours and 10 minutes, Aldrin about 20 minutes less.

READ: How visions of the Moon inspired storytellers

The operation has been without incident except for when Aldrin dropped a film pack. Armstrong picked it up immediately, easily, almost nonchalantly, showing again that all NASA's worries about the difficulties the astronauts could face moving on Moon were unwarranted.

The incident also allowed Earth to hear the first lunar curse. Aldrin, furious at his own clumsiness, lets slips a resounding, "Damn." 

Aldrin enters the module. Armstrong takes a last look around, grabs the handrails of the ladder, climbs up, enters the craft and closes the hatch. It is 1:11am Houston time. The first exploration of the Moon is over. A total success. 

- 'Hallelujah' -

All that remains for the two brave space explorers is to clean up. They sweep towards the hatch the film-less camera used to photograph their Moon rock collection, their boots, gloves and survival packs, as well as empty food bags and full urine ones. 

Having depressurized the cabin again, they open the hatch and shove the pile out onto the Moon. The module is closed and repressurised a last time, allowing the men to eat and sleep.

READ: Interpreting the super blood moon

About 12 hours later, at 1:55pm, they must takeoff from the Moon to return to the mothership. There command pilot Michael Collins awaits, one of the few Americans not to have seen the two spacemen in action live on television, although he was able to follow via radio.

Watching over them from above, when Collins learned that the expedition had concluded in triumph and his teammates were safe and sound aboard their module, he expressed his joy and relief with a single word: "Hallelujah!"