Celebrating a defining moment in history

On July 20 1969, the world waited with bated breath (600 million tuning in; a total of 1/5th of the population at the time) as Neil Armstrong descended down the ladder of the lunar lander, the Eagle, and set the very first human foot on the surface of the Moon. His famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” crackled their way back to Earth, and the face of history was changed forever.

Only 8 years prior, President John F. Kennedy had set an ambitious goal of landing on the Moon by the end of the decade in his 1961 address to Congress. A year later during a public speech, his historic quote “We choose to go to the Moon” set the nation on a path of relentless hard work, hundreds of thousands of contributors and three heroic astronauts striving to achieve President Kennedy’s challenge, and resulting in arguably the biggest feat of humanity to date.

After the successful touchdown of the Eagle on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the surface, deploying experiments and retrieving lunar rock samples. Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit for just under 22 hours while his crewmates explored the alien world below. Following the mission’s successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, another five Apollo missions successful landed on the Moon over the next three years, each exploring various areas of the surface and yielding new scientific insights. The last lunar visit was Apollo 17 in 1972.

Get involved!

Throughout the month of July and with support from the Embassy of the United States of America, Stardome Observatory and Planetarium will be celebrating 50 years since this amazing milestone and the tremendous effort of all those involved with the Apollo Programme.

“NASA’s Apollo 11 mission putting humans on the Moon for the first-time inspired generations that followed not only to explore careers in science, but also just to dream big impossible dreams in any area of their lives,” said U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown. “For decades, Kiwis and Americans have been collaborating in science and space and in a whole host of areas. I hope this 50th anniversary milestone inspires our future generations to keep working together to transform seemingly impossible into everyday reality.”

At Stardome, The Moon Milestone, a special-edition 360-degree planetarium experience, will highlight the significance of the Moon, the challenge of getting the Apollo astronauts there and back safely and the role the Moon will play in future exploration. Giant Leap: An Exhibition will provide visitors with a walk-through journey of the Apollo programme, the heroic astronauts and the incredible technology used. Youngsters will also be able to get involved at Mission to the Moon: Winter School Holiday Fun, with Moon-themed activities and experiments, rocket launching, and the planetarium show The Accidental Astronauts. For those who would like to celebrate on the official anniversary day of July 20, we are running a Moon Marathon Open Night where The Moon Milestone show will screen on the hour, every hour between 6-10pm for only $5 a ticket.

The Apollo programme had a very real impact on humanity. Over the past 50 years, it has provided deep insights into the evolution of our celestial neighbor, fueled further scientific research and discoveries, and has paved the way for humanity’s continued reach into the cosmos. Many of the technologies developed for the progamme have trickled through to daily life. Next time you use your cordless vacuum or drill, thank Apollo.

We hope those who remember this historic landing, those who are just learning how to spell the word ‘Moon’, and everyone else in between gets the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on this incredible feat achieved all those years ago. This anniversary provides an opportune time to look back on all that humanity has achieved while looking forward to where technology, bravery and human ambition can propel us into the future.

For a sneak peek at some of what you may discover in The Moon Milestone show and the Giant Leap Exhibition, have a read of Not that long ago on a Moon far away, an article by David Britten originally published in the 2019 New Zealand Astronomical Yearbook.