Neil Armstrong’s iconic words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he stepped down the ladder onto the surface of the Moon have been heard all around the world. The Apollo program was launched during the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA during the Cold War. NASA’s Apollo 11 successfully accomplished the mission to land the first humans on the Moon in 1969. American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited the moon in the command.

Respectively, Apollo 11 (1969), Apollo 12 (1969), Apollo 14 (1971) Apollo 15 (1971) Apollo 16 (1972), Apollo 17 (1972) landed successfully and during these six human spaceflights, twelve men walked on the moon.

Merve Kara from AeroTime has spoken with Brian Malow, Earth’s Premier Science Comedian (self-proclaimed). He has worked with the NSF, AAAS, NASA, NIST, produced science videos for Time Magazine and audio essays for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio.

The Apollo program was launched as part of the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA during the Cold War.  What was the significance of the Apollo 11 mission’s success?

First of all, what an amazing achievement was the entire space program ‒ the idea of humans walking on another world for the first time. To get to the moon ‒ and to come back. It was an incredible technological achievement that showed what can happen when a bunch of people put their minds together and focus on a project. 

There is also maybe a more cynical part that it happened because there was tension between the United States and [Soviet - ed. note] Russia. They were competing to outdo each other, and NASA was given a bigger budget to achieve this.  So, there might have been political reasons why it was well funded, but then they took that money and achieved this incredible thing that had never been done before and has not exactly been done since either. 

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 mission, how have people's perspectives on space exploration changed?

Well, in a lot of different ways. It is still an incredibly inspiring thing. There are a lot of people who are huge fans of the space program and they want us to do more. For example, the International Space Station has been constantly occupied, orbiting the Earth for more than 20 years with different crews. And it is huge, it is the size of a football field. A lot of people have been on it. 

In addition to that, NASA and other space programs from other countries have really specialized in uncrewed robotic exploration. We have sent spacecraft to every planet in the solar system and then to Pluto, and even beyond Pluto, which is incredible. I see it as an extension of our senses. First we looked out with our bare eyes, then we looked out with telescopes, then we sent spacecraft past Mars and Jupiter, and as they flew by they took some pictures. Now, we have actually put probes in Mars orbit, and even landed on the planet. 

The first footprints on the Moon. Image: NASA

I was just watching Venera 14 that landed on Venus, which is so hot that the probe did not last very long, but it recorded some sounds. So I was there, listening to sounds recorded on the surface of Venus. I am pretty sure we have the same thing on Mars. 

More recently, a couple of years ago, New Horizons [spacecraft] passed Pluto. Then, on New Year's Day, it passed the most distant object that we have ever had a close encounter with ‒ Ultima Thule. And there is the Cassini mission, which spent years orbiting around Saturn and checking out Saturn and its moons. These objects are billions of miles away.