It was part of a challenge and the culmination of a space race. Man’s journey and landing on the moon marked a colossal achievement in the history of mankind — unmatched to this date
On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another world. His small step became mankind’s giant leap and for that one moment while man was on the moon, the entire world — which was locked in many bitter self-conflicts — looked up towards the heavens as one in complete awe.
It seemed like a simple thing to do for Armstrong to step off the ledge of the lunar module called Eagle. On the contrary, that step was the result of a decade-long effort put in by Nasa and even cost the lives of potential astronauts. It started with a simple speech and a challenge put forth by President John F Kennedy in 1961, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
Although the Apollo missions had already begun, it took 30 missions and five human spaceflights and three lunar space flights, to get man on the moon. From rocket tests, to aborted mission tests, to preparing the astronauts themselves, the effort put in by Nasa and the American government has yet to be matched in recent years of space travel.
Almost 35 years have passed since the last mission to moon, Apollo 17. It was the December 14, 1972, when the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan last set foot on the lunar surface and no one has ever graced the surface of our only satellite since then. Budget reductions, faltering economies and mishaps brushed Nasa aside from being the once favorite of American governments, as the nation stopped looking to the heavens for bold adventures and looked around for materialistic opportunities, such as wars and other conflicts. But man’s return to the moon has always been inevitable.
Foundations for man’s return to the moon have been laid since 2004, when President George W Bush called for a plan to return manned missions to the Moon by 2020. Mimicking the space race of the 50s and 60s, the US once again faces competition, and this time not just from one nation.
China has developed ambitious plans for exploring the moon and has started the Chang'e programme for lunar exploration. The first successful launch of the Chang'e-1 took place on October 24, 2007. India too has joined the leagues of the lunar challenge, and several unmanned missions begin with Chandrayaan I originally scheduled to launch in February 2008, but now delayed to September 2008. India hopes to expand from robots to humans and have the first Indian on the moon by 2030. Nasa is taking steps further from just manned missions and is already working on deploying a permanent settlement on the moon in the form of an outpost around the lunar poles.
We all know the first words ever spoken when man landed on the moon, but very few of us remember the last words, as spoken by Cernan on that fateful day in December, "As we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. As I take these last steps from the surface for some time to come, I'd just like to record that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. Godspeed the crew of Apollo Seventeen."
Indeed, the challenge of yesterday, that of the first step that made man leap a giant leap for mankind, has poised man once again towards an even bigger leap — to the future and beyond.