Live from the Sea of Tranquillity

Just fifty years ago, on July 21, 1969, a quarter of humanity had its eyes on the Moon. All together, all races, ethnic groups, religions combined, holding our breath, incredulous in front of the blurred and jerky images on the television set or raising our eyes to the star that shone in the sky. A man had set foot on the Moon. To remind us of this moment that will mark universal history as well as everyone's history, let's reread the dispatch that an AFP journalist sent out to all tickers at 2:56 GMT.
MER DE LA TRANQUILLITE (AFP) - Sunday at 22:56 U.S. time (i.e. Monday 02:56 GMT), Armstrong, after an interminable suspense, sets foot on the Moon.
It all started a few hours earlier when Armstrong, the sole master on board, suddenly announced to the world that he would be coming out of the LEM five hours ahead of schedule. At that moment, the historical film of the descent and the first steps on the Moon began.
- 7:42 P.M. (23:42 GMT). The astronauts begin their preparations for the spacewalk. They don their double-visor helmets, put on their boots, put on their special reinforced gloves, put on their survival harnesses and check the operation of the pressurization, radio communication and oxygen supply systems.
- 7:50 P.M. (23:50 GMT). NASA announces that these preparations will last two hours. Armstrong will therefore not be out until 22:00 (02:00 GMT).
- 9:55 P.M. (01:55 GMT). They depressurize their cabin and pressurize their moon suit at the same time.
- 10:00 P.M. (02:00 GMT). The vacuum is in the "LM".
- 10:15 P.M. (02:15 GMT). They finished pressurizing their suits.
- 10:28 P.M. (02:28 GMT). It's all right. It's all right. The "LEM" remains fully depressurized. They are now fully dependent on their survival harnesses.
- "Giant Leap" -
10:56 P.M. (02:56 GMT). Armstrong puts his left foot on the moon and says, "It's a small step for man. It's a giant leap for mankind".
These are the first words of man on the surface of the Moon. Before putting his foot firmly on the ground, the captain had carefully felt the surface to check its resistance.
"My foot only penetrates an eighth of an inch... There doesn't seem to be any difficulty walking. There doesn't seem to be any difficulty in moving around," Armstrong exclaims in surprise as he takes his first steps.
"Seems to be easier than in a simulated lunar gravity state. That's very interesting. The surface is very soft in general, but there are harder areas, the ground has great cohesion.
Buzz Aldrin descends the ladder of the lunar module, July 21, 1969 at 03H14 GMT (NASA/AFP - -)
Armstrong's evolutions, who indeed seems to move with ease on the Moon, and his monologue are broadcast live on every screen in the world. Viewers, wherever they are, can see the conqueror of the Moon descend the nine steps of the ladder, put his foot down, feel the surface, let go of the last rung his hand was still clinging to, take his first steps, collect the first sample of the lunar soil.
This sample, a bit of Moon dust, he picks it up at the very foot of the module's stairs, with a kind of landing net with a telescopic handle that he takes out of his pocket.
He then lifts his load, closes the landing net tightly, throws the handle, the first of the terrestrial detritus that will litter the Moon's floor after the astronauts' departure, and buries the harvest in his pocket, blindly, guided by Aldrin who, from the top of the "LM" exit platform, observes all his gestures.
It is now 11:15 p.m. (03:15 GMT). Armstrong has already spent 19 minutes alone on the Moon, 19 minutes during which, in the indefinable solitude of the dead planet, he has consistently demonstrated perfect self-control.
At that moment, his team-mate, Edwin Aldrin, made his leaping appearance on the surface of the Moon.
Assured that the Moon would not be treacherous, after Armstrong's experience, the lunar module pilot jumped off the ladder and landed with his left foot.
- The dark abyss of the universe -
The two men, then, united in the same patriotic gesture, planted the American flag on the Moon and then read aloud the inscription engraved on the plate attached to the landing stage of the "LM" which will remain on the Moon, symbol of its conquest by man: "Here men from planet Earth have taken their first steps on the Moon. July 1969. We have come in a spirit of peace for all mankind".
Having accomplished their symbolic gesture, the astronauts move the camera, attached to the module, which has been continuously pouring out images of a White Moon, whose horizon is skewed against a very black background. Armstrong takes it and hangs it around his neck.
The image then starts to dance on the small screens. The Apollo Mission Commander turns on the power and sets up the camera on a tripod.
A panoramic view: the module in the background, an infinite number of tiny holes casting huge shadows in the foreground, the horizon in the distance, whose roundness is clearly visible, a real line of demarcation between a surface shimmering in the sunlight and the black abyss of the universe.
The image keeps getting sharper and sharper. The astronauts' footprints can be seen on the grayish-white ground of the Moon. We can see the starry banner firmly planted.
The two men continue to evolve. They advance with a surprising ease, a real dance step. A strange ballet takes place on the Moon. Their heavy diving suit, a real fireproof armour, reinforced at the joints, weighed down even more by the harness attached to the back, does not seem to bother them. They move with surprising lightness and mobility.
- Nixon's on the phone--
11:49 P.M. (03:49 GMT): Ground announces that President Nixon is on the line. He will, as planned, speak to the astronauts.
Immediately, the small screen splits into two equal parts: on the left, we see the President of the United States reading a message on the phone from the White House.
On the right, the astronauts, motionless, listen to the voice that comes from the Earth, that is to say from 380,000 kilometres away. "This is the most glorious day of our lives," the president said. "Thanks to you, the heavens have become part of our world".
Thank you, Mr. Chairman," Armstrong says. It's a great honour and privilege for us to be here.
Edwin Aldrin then deploys a "solar wind collector". It is a thin roll of aluminium foil, developed at the University of Bern, Switzerland, by Dr. Johannes Geiss. It unwinds like a blind. Once installed, it collects in its folds the gaseous particles - helium, argon, neon, krypton, xenon - that make up the solar wind.
"The astronauts, who have already been on the moon for more than an hour - and who are in "perfect shape", according to Dr. Berry, their regular doctor, who follows their every move from Houston.
They collect the selenological samples in bulk and place them in plastic bags. These bags are then placed in perfectly sealed metal containers.
To carry out their task as "gardeners of the Moon", the cosmonauts use a whole series of tools that they have removed from the module's "luggage compartment", the "Mesa" (Modularized equipment stowage assembly) of its real name. They use pliers, pincers, shovels, picks, a hammer, sample tubes, scales, all the equipment of the perfect geologist. However, these instruments are larger than those that would be used on Earth because astronauts wear special reinforced gloves that prevent them from grasping small objects.
Since their suits prevent them from bending down, the tools are equipped with a long universal telescopic handle that makes it easier for them to do so. If a tool should, by misfortune, slip out of their hands, the astronauts could still pick it up because, if they can't bend their waist, they can kneel on the ground.
- Dead star? –
At quarter past midnight (04H15 GMT), the collection of "moonstones" is completed. They collected at least 27 to 28 kilos of them.
With this first mission accomplished, they still have to install two devices that they will leave on the Moon: the seismograph and the laser reflector.
The Moon Seismograph, the most sensitive, the most sophisticated ever built, is designed to record all the tremors shaking the Moon, to distinguish whether they are of volcanic origin and constitute real Moon tremors or whether they are only shock waves caused by the impact of meteorites constantly bombarding the Moon.
The installation of the seismograph, which must be operational for one year, is the most important thing that astronauts will have to accomplish because, thanks to the indications it will provide, man will finally know whether the Moon is a dead star or not.
The laser reflector is an assembly of one hundred prismatic mirrors made of quartz crystals to reflect the laser beams sent to the Moon from various points on the Earth's surface. Installed in four minutes and designed to operate for ten years, the laser reflector will be able to calculate the Earth-Moon distance (currently known to within a few centimetres), determine the exact shape of the Moon, its dimensions, and its oscillations around its axis, calculate how fast the Moon is moving away from the Earth, and obtain information about the Earth itself, including determining the exact distance between continents, checking whether they are drifting slowly, studying the movements of the geographic North Pole, calculating the speed of the Earth's rotation, and measuring its oscillations around its axis.
The seismograph is installed. The laser reflector as well. The astronauts, while working tirelessly, continue to transmit to the Houston centre their impressions and all the information gathered.
Armstrong reports that he has found countless small craters around the module, which he compares to "holes caused by air gun pellets.
- Moon cuss -
Lunar exploration is coming to an end. The astronauts begin to pack up their bags, leaving the $11,000 camera on the Moon, which has so faithfully tracked their progress and retransmitted most of their activities on the Moon and the tools they used to collect the selenological samples, that they are now being pulled up by a rope operated by a pulley in the upper stage of the module. They fold up the solar wind collector and also slide it along the rope, their "clothesline," as they call it.
To carry out the "loading operation," Aldrin climbed the nine rungs of the stairs and stood on the platform, grabbing the items Armstrong passed him and carefully stowing them inside.
It's now more than two hours and ten minutes since Armstrong went out, about twenty less for Aldrin.
The operation goes off without incident, except that at one point Aldrin drops a roll of film that falls on the Moon. Armstrong picks it up instantly, easily, almost nonchalantly, demonstrating once again that all of NASA's fears about the difficulties astronauts might have moving on the Moon were in vain.
This incident also allowed Earthlings to hear the first "lunar curse". Aldrin, furious at his clumsiness, threw a resounding "Damn" when he saw the scroll slipping from his grasp.
Aldrin is entering the module. Armstrong takes a last look around, grabs the ladder rungs, climbs up, enters, closes the hatch. It is 01:11 (05:11 GMT). The exploration of the Moon is over. Mission accomplished. Total success.
Five minutes before the astronauts returned to their quarters, NASA reported that the laser reflector they had just installed was working perfectly. California's Lick Observatory had already directed a beam of this coherent, monochromatic, focused light onto the device, which immediately sent it back to its source, demonstrating that it was in good working order.
- "Hallelujah" -
All that remains for the two brave explorers to do is to clean their cabin, sweep to the door the camera - empty - which they used to photograph from all angles the lunar pebbles they picked up, their boots, their gloves, their survival harnesses, other garbage and miscellaneous waste such as empty food and urine bags, depressurize the "LM" again, open the door, throw their "garbage" on the Moon, close the hatch, repressurize the module one last time, eat and sleep.
At 13:55 (17:55 GMT), they must take off from the Moon to reach the control cabin where their teammate, Michael Collins, one of the few people in the world who could not follow their activities on television, is still alone on board. Collins, however, was kept abreast of his comrades' progress by radio contact. He watched over them from above, and when he was told that their expedition had been a triumph and that they were safe and unharmed aboard the "S.M.", he expressed his joy and relief with one word: "Hallelujah.

At the same time:

Berlin - Photo: Edwin Reichert/AP
Castel Gandolfo - Photo: Felici/Alamy
Milan - Photo: AP
Texas - Photo: Bob Peterson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images
New York - Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty
Hong Kong - Photo: PhotoQuest/Getty
Paris - Photo: AFP/Getty
Tokyo - Photo: AP
London - Photo: Mirrorpix/Alamy

READ ALSO IN UP : EXCLUSIVE: Claudie Haigneré, her dream of a lunar village.

- special number of Science & Life, The Moon and Beyond
- Céka and Yigaël, Apollo 11, man's first steps on the moon...COMIC BOOK. Faton Publishing

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