Apollo 11 Mission Anniversary: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin First on Moon

The United States space program, known today as NASA, was started in 1958 and by 1969—less than a decade after President John F. Kennedy asked the agency to put a man on the moon—it happened. Except it put two men on the moon.

Friday marked the 49th anniversary of that moon landing, a win for the United States in the space race and as astronaut Neil Armstrong said, "one giant leap for mankind."

The mission officially started July 16, 1969, when three astronauts climbed into the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia before liftoff. But months of training and preparations went into the mission before then.

The three men who flew on the Apollo 11 mission were Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins. The mission went according to plan, and three days after the men launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, they entered orbit around the moon, on July 19, 1969.

They spent their three-day journey in the command module, service module and lunar module, which made up the ship. After they arrived in orbit, they used a day to prepare the modules as well as themselves for making history. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin got into the Lunar Module Eagle and set off for a place no human had ever gone before, the surface of the moon.

While Armstrong and Aldrin went down to the moon's surface, Collins stayed in the Command Module. There he did space experiments and took photos of Earth and the space around it, including the moon, according to NASA.

flag on moon
A photo of NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin near the flag of the United States of America, planted on the moon. This image was taken July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong/NASA

Down on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin did experiments, too, and even collected moon rocks and dust off the surface to bring back to Earth for testing. During that time, they also planted the iconic flag of the United States of America, which is still there today.

The duo took photos on the surface of the moon as well, though Armstrong took most of the photos, so he's in few of them. One taken by Aldrin shows Armstrong at the base of the Eagle.

neil armstrong on the moon
This photo taken on the surface of the moon by NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin shows NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong near the base of the Eagle Lunar Module. Buzz Aldrin/NASA

But the stay on the moon was short-lived: Aldrin and Armstrong only spent a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the actual surface of the moon before they got back in the module to reunite with the command module and Collins.

The three of them re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and returned to the Earth's surface on July 24, 1969, more than a week after they originally blasted off on a quest to make history.