21 July 1969: the first human to walk on the moon

Astronaut bootprint on the lunar surface © NASA
A $25.4bn footprint

At 2:56 AM GMT on this day in 1969, six and a half hours after landing the ‘Eagle’ lunar module, Neil Armstrong took his first small step on the moon’s surface.

Armstrong’s footfall was the culmination of efforts that started eight years earlier with President John F Kennedy’s pledge that America would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It signalled a US victory in the ‘space race’ with the Soviet Union.

The cost of sending a man to the moon was initially estimated at $7bn. This proved to be wildly optimistic. In 1973, the final cost of the Apollo programme was reported to the US Congress as being $25.4bn.

The programme brought back 2,415 samples of rock to earth, weighing 382kg, which helped gain an understanding of the moon’s composition and origins.

In 2002, four students were arrested for stealing a safe full of moon rocks from Nasa. In the subsequent court case, the rocks were valued at $50,800 per gramme (in 1973 dollars), based on how much it cost to bring them back to earth.

270 lumps of ‘goodwill moon rock’ were given away by America’s Nixon administration to the various nations of the world, and a further 100 to US states. 160 of them are believed to be missing.

In 2011, a rock missing for 30 years and valued at £10m was found in files belonging to Bill Clinton. The rock given to Honduras was offered for sale on the black market for $5m. And Ireland’s rock was apparently thrown away after a fire at Dublin’s Dunsink Observatory.

Merryn

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