History of the moon landing: how and when it happened

The moon landing is one of the most incredible achievements in the history of mankind. And, as it practically always happens for such revolutionary events, it is still today the object of controversial theories and speculations never actually demonstrated. To the whole world, of that July 20, 1969, remains the story of an epochal enterprise, accomplished by three exceptional men. The first lunar landing of a human being was that of Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, and Buzz Aldrin, while their companion Michael Collins, remained in orbit, controlled the command module Columbia.

At a distance of more than 50 years, the final landing on the satellite of our planet represents a moment physiologically very important for scientific exploration, and symbolizes the possibility of man to overcome in some way his own limits.

Moon Landing: the long night of Apollo 11

The 1969 Moon landing is not only remembered for its scientific value, but has definitely written an important chapter in our history. Placed temporally in the middle of the Cold War, the moon landing has inevitably carved out a significant socio-political importance not only for the United States of America, but for the world's balance more generally. It is no coincidence that, on that day half a century ago, about 900 million people glued themselves to the TV to follow live the last and decisive phases of the Apollo 11 mission, which "exploded" with the walk on the moon by Armstrong and Aldrin. A mission, that of the USA and its space power, which has its roots in the internal struggle, and not too veiled, with the then USSR.

The Soviet Luna program launched Luna 1, the first vehicle to fly beyond the Moon, on January 4, 1959, but failed its mission by crashing on the lunar surface, becoming at the same time the first artificial object to escape from Earth's orbit. Its successor, Luna 2, was the first vehicle to lunarise, while Luna 3 was the first to take photographs of the hidden side of the Moon, remaining etched in the annals since October 7, 1959. Luna 9, launched by the USSR on February 3, 1966, made the first soft landing on the Moon, while Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon on April 3, 1966.

Faced with Russia's encouraging achievements, the U.S. government decided that before sending a human crew to the Moon, unmanned spacecraft should be the first to explore the satellite by taking photographs in order to confirm safe landing on the cold asteroid surface. The Americans consequently tried to send a probe to the Moon with the Pioneer program, but had to deal with ten completely unsuccessful attempts. With the robotic Surveyor program, which was tasked with locating a safe landing site on the Moon, five of the seven planned missions proved successful, and helped the Richard Nixon-led government find the best target for the Apollo astronauts.

Apollo 8 subsequently performed the first manned lunar orbit on December 27, 1968, setting the stage for the first man to land on the Moon. As already mentioned, the first landing on the Moon took place on July 21, 1969: in fact the moon landing had taken place a few hours earlier, on July 20 at 22:17 Italian time, but Neil Armstrong made his historic walk only a few hours later, when the date had already changed. The moon landing broke our certainties, our mental cages and cancelled every difference between categories and social classes.

Those who were able to live in first person those moments, with a live broadcast that, here in Italy, lasted 28 hours on RAI conducted by Tito Stagno, could feel an ordinary man or woman among billions of ordinary men and women, too small in front of the greatness of the event. The applause for Armstrong's first step was a gesture that united the whole world, with many identifying with those three astronauts, superheroes but also human beings with their own limits, insecurities and fears.

The moon landing took place on the Sea of Tranquility, an area of the lunar surface constantly directed towards the Earth. The precise point of contact with lunar soil is located at coordinates 0.8° N, 23.4° E, and was nicknamed Tranquillity Base, later Statio Tranquillitatis. The three smaller craters located a little further north were named Aldrin, Collins, and Armstrong. The Apollo 11 crew laid a stainless steel plaque to commemorate the landing and leave information about the visit to any other being, human or otherwise, who finds it. The plaque reads, "Here, men from planet Earth set foot on the Moon for the first time, July 1969 AD. We have come in peace, on behalf of all mankind." Not only that, the plaque on the Moon depicts the two hemispheres of the planet Earth, and is signed by the three astronauts (Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin) and the then President of the United States of America Nixon.

Following the first landing on the Moon and subsequent ones related to the Apollo program, no human being has walked on the Earth's satellite since. In fact, the Americans lost interest, and the USSR continued only with automated probes, including the famous Lunochod, which also brought lunar soil samples back to Earth. At present, the European Space Agency and the People's Republic of China both have plans to explore the Moon: the first will use the safest probes, while the second with a real human exploration program. The Chinese government, in particular, is also considering the possibility of mining the Moon for the isotope Helium-3, to be used as a future energy source for nuclear fusion here on Earth.

Moon landing: true or false?

Although the first man on the Moon is universally recognized in Neil Armstrong, actually unlike what you might think the famous photo of the footprint on the lunar soil does not belong to the acclaimed astronaut who died in 2012, but to his colleague Aldrin. The print is particularly sharp, for a clarity explicitly desired by scientists: to impress a strong pressure was necessary to verify the compactness of the material that makes up the lunar soil, the so-called regolith. However, this is not the only curiosity related to the landing on the Moon. Indeed, as we mentioned at the beginning, the moon landing has always been a matter of discussion, and there are strands of thought that even cast doubt on its authenticity.

So much so as to generate a real lunar conspiracy theory, known in English as Moon Hoax. According to this conspiracy hypothesis, the Apollo program missions would not really have transported astronauts to the Moon, and the evidence of the moon landings would have been completely falsified by NASA and the U.S. government. For the plotters, the images of the moon landings would be footage taken in a film studio with the help of special effects, to simulate an event that, with the discovery of America and the atomic bomb on Japan, is one of the three events that has most affected our history.

The landing on the Moon would be a fake, a real hoax artfully constructed by the U.S. government in collaboration with the National Agency for Space and Aeronautics, in order to appropriate an achievement that in reality would have happened only later. All to keep pace in the space race that has given and taken so much during the Cold War. The most contested aspects to NASA are different, but more than one independent publication has been able to dismantle the alleged conspiracy evidence.

Tra motivations that challenge the veracity of the event we have first of all the presence of multiple light sources on the lunar soil, followed by a strange light reflected from Armstrong's helmet, reminiscent of a reflector typical of a film set. On a rock, then, skeptics have noticed something very similar to a letter, not to mention that the movement of the American flag in the images arrived from the satellite should be impossible in the absence of air.

The first landing on the Moon: from the sky to the cinema

The landing on the Moon, and the consequent small step of Neil Armostrong, was really a big step for humanity. It goes without saying that it inspired writers and poets, along with all those directors who wanted to tell the story of the event using the tools of the seventh art. The first of the many was George Méliès with Le voyage dans la lune, born in 1902. Another "lunar" film to be seen in the film library is A Woman on the Moon, directed in 1929 by the German master Fritz Lang. There are also Men on the Moon by George Pal, 1950, and the cult film 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, dated 1968 and which speaks of a moon already colonized by mankind.

In 1978, Peter Hyams gave us Capricorn One, in which he speculates that the real landing on our satellite was never actually realized: just like the supporters of the Moon Hoax, it was a fiction orchestrated to art. Ron Howard's 1995 Apollo 13 tells the true story of the failed moon landing of the space mission of the same name. And finally Damien Chazelle's film First Man starring Ryan Gosling, who plays the role of Neil Armstrong himself.