At 10:39 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong opened the Eagle's hatch and squeezed through. He inched slowly down the 10-foot, nine-step ladder, stopping along the way to activate a television camera that would transmit his image to Earth. At 10:56 p.m., he sank his left foot into the powdery soil of the Moon and radioed the sentence that, thought of just a few minutes before, earned him a place in history: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

ARMSTRONG clambers down the ladder of lunar lander to leave an indelible imprint on history.

FIRST IMPRESSION. The print left in the dusty soil of the Moon by Armstrong's rubber boot marks humanity's first step on another world.

Armstrong moved out, testing himself in gravity one-sixth of that on Earth. "The surface is fine and powdery," he said. "I can pick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the sole and sides of my boots." He immediately began collecting soil samples with a bag on the end of a pole--part of the planned science experiments of the mission.

Shortly afterward, Armstrong was joined on the lunar surface by his companion, Buzz Aldrin. The two astronauts planted a flag on lunar soil, establishing Tranquility Base as the U.S. foothold on the Moon. They aimed a TV camera at a plaque attached to one of the legs of the landing vehicle that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." And they conversed with President Richard M. Nixon via radio from the White House.

By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts returned to the lunar module, closed the hatch and caught a few hours of sleep. At 1:54 p.m., they started the Ascent engine and the lunar module rose from the Moon to dock with Michael Collins in the Command Module at 5:35 p.m. Once Armstrong and Aldrin were back on board, Eagle was cast adrift and the trio started for home. They carried with them rocks and soil samples that are still being studied today. They left behind the American flag, the descent stage and its plaque--and a large number of human footprints.

Images: NASA

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