“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Forty-five years ago this summer, over 500 million people around the world heard Neil Armstrong utter those immortal words and watched as he became the first person to walk on the moon. When he, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin returned to earth on July 24, 1969, they had fulfilled President Kennedy’s goal stated eight years later to Congress: “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Everyone watched as they planted an American flag in the lunar surface, but the U.S. is not the only country represented on the moon. Among other items the astronauts left was a recording of messages from the leaders of 73 countries around the world as well as commemorative medallions bearing the names Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who was the first person to orbit the earth, in 1961; Vladimir Komarov, the first cosmonaut to fly into space more than once, and who died when his capsule crash landed in April 1967; and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee, the three Apollo 1 astronauts killed when their Command Module caught fire during a trial launch on January 27, 1967.
And in a nod to the history of flight, among the personal mementos that Neil Armstrong carried with him was a piece of propeller from the airplane flown in 1903 by Orville and Wilbur Wright. That same piece of wood is on display at the Wright Brothers National Museum in Kitty Hawk, NC, while the Apollo 11 Command Module flown in by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins is in the “Milestones of Flight” exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
For more information on the history of flight and New Hampshire astronaut Alan Shepard, take a visit to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord. And don’t forget that the library has a museum pass for there that you can borrow!