FILE - In this July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, the first men to land on the moon, plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he has died at age 82. A statement from the family says he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. It doesn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA)

Apollo 11's 'priceless moment' in the 'whole history of man'

After 50 years, the landing of human beings on the moon 239,000 miles away from the Earth still stands as perhaps the most impactful yet improbable technological endeavor ever achieved.

The United States of America accomplished the feat on July 20, 1969, less than a decade after President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

A few hours after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Apollo 11 lunar module, the two men descended the vehicle and walked on the moon, first Armstrong, then Aldrin, to the amazement of everyone watching on live television back on Earth. Meanwhile, command module pilot Michael Collins orbited the moon and awaited the imminent reunion with his space companions for their return to Earth.

For Baby Boomers and the generation immediately preceding it, the moon landing is a defining moment in lives filled with big moments. While their memories contain specific events — sometimes spectacular and sometimes tragic — it is the moon landing and moon walk that quickly rise to the surface.

Advancements in technology had been a hallmark in the country for nearly a century. The industrial revolution and two world wars sparked amazing scientific innovations that promised to keep the world progressing at a rapid pace. The U.S. surpassed other competitors, mainly the Soviet Union, in the space race and became the leader in the march toward harnessing space travel.

In addition to the awesome nature of the moment for America and the world, it was an intensely personal moment for those involved, from all the NASA workers who helped bring the space program to this point, to the astronauts themselves who showed great courage and dedication in carrying out their mission.

Shortly after the successful moon landing, President Nixon spoke to Armstrong and Aldrin from the Oval Office. That first telephone call between Earth and the moon was brief, but it reflected the enormity and emotions of the moment.

"I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you've done," Nixon told the crew. "For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is."

Nixon continued: "Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth."

A few days later, Apollo 11 returned to Earth. Its mission accomplished, the U.S. space program had dramatically changed the world and the way we view our universe.

Published editorials are the collective opinion of the Tribune-Star's Editorial Board and are independent of the newspaper's news gathering and coverage.