GIANT LEAP: World prepares to mark 50 years since Apollo 11 moon landing

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HISTORIC: Human first set foot on the Moon 50 years ago. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons


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THE world marks 50 years since the first humans took a giant leap for the species and set foot on the Moon tomorrow (Saturday), with Spain having played a part.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped off the Apollo 11 Lunar Module and onto the surface of the Moon on July 20 1969.

Around 650 million people across the world watched as Armstrong stepped down from the craft and said: “That’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.”

Commemorations for the landing include a picture of the Saturn V rocket being projected onto the Washington Monument in the US capital. The craft carried Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins from the Earth and into space.

The mission took a total of eight days. It began when Saturn V lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre on July 16 and ended with the astronaut’s recovery in the North Pacific Ocean on July 24.

Spain played a key part in helping the three astronauts reach their destination. Technicians at the Fresnedillas de la Oliva tracking station, about 50 kilometres away from Madrid, controlled communications between the astronauts and Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

The Spanish station was one of three across the world which made up NASA’s MSFN network, the other two being Goldstone, California and Honeysuckle near Canberra in Australia.

SPAIN STATION: Fresnedillas de la Oliva controlled Apollo 11’s communications. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Carlos Gonzales and Jose Manuel Grandela both worked at the Spanish centre. They were the first two people to hear Neil Armstrong say: ‘The eagle has landed’, the phrase signalling they had arrived on the lunar surface.

Gonzalez told Spanish media Armstrong wanted to step onto the Moon no matter what happened and added he remembered an exchange between the astronaut and Houston when told he had to wait.

“I’ve been preparing for this for years, I’ve travelled 400,000 kilometres, I’ve gone down to the Moon with certain difficulties and now you tell me I have to sleep?” Gonzalez remembered Armstrong saying.

“Houston had proposed to abort the mission but Armstrong took semiautomatic control and with Buzz Aldrin giving him altitude and speed data he landed with about 30 seconds’ worth of fuel to spare,” Gonzalez said.

Grandela, who was 23 at the time, said the mission was an important step in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“The mission unleashed an avalanche of innovations in engineering, informatics, materials and fuels from which all of humanity is benefitting today,” he said.

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