Let’s take you back to the afternoon of July 20, 1969. Two Apollo 11 astronauts in a small lunar landing vehicle have one chance to land on the Moon safely. Their landing radar has malfunctioned and the guidance computer is leading them into a field of boulders. The commander has taken manual control of the spacecraft and is trying to set the vehicle down in a safe spot with precious few seconds of fuel remaining. The consequences of running out of fuel before landing would be a disastrous crash, death of the astronauts, and failure of the mission:
HOUSTON: 30 seconds [fuel remaining].
EAGLE: Contact light! OK, engine stop . . . descent engine command override off . . .
HOUSTON: We copy you down, Eagle.
EAGLE: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!
HOUSTON: Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot. “
Later that night, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped off the landing pad of the lunar module onto the surface of the Moon and said, "That's one small step for man . . . one giant leap for mankind." With these words from the Moon and the accomplishments of Apollo 11, the United States fulfilled the challenge presented by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to be the first nation to put a man on the Moon and return him safely. The mission was a major scientific and technical achievement, a pivotal moment in human history and an event that essentially ended the long space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.