Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are on the space A-list because they were the first two humans to set foot on the moon. Perhaps not as well known is a third, crucial crew member—Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot. He is seen here training and practicing docking hatch separation in a simulator. The crew of Apollo 11 got to the moon and made it back safely because of him.
Armstrong and Aldrin left many items on the lunar surface, but one was particularly special. This is a replica of the gold pin the astronauts placed on the moon before they left: It’s an olive branch, less than 6 inches long, meant to symbolize peace among humankind.
These days, we may not sell as much swag when humans launch into space, but the Apollo 11 mission to the moon was a huge deal. Here we see a group of people gathered in New York City’s Central Park to watch the lunar landing together, with a vendor offering banners commemorating the moment.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was abuzz with luminaries and heads of state who wanted to witness the launch of this historic mission on July 16, 1969. At center here we see the former president, Lyndon Johnson, with the former first lady Lady Bird Johnson at his right, and then-Vice President Spiro Agnew at his left.
The highest stakes of all: Two of Apollo 11’s crew (Armstrong is in the foreground, with Collins following) walk on the gangway to the rocket that will take them to their lunar mission. Quiet photographs like these capture the seriousness of what the crew was about to do. There was no way to know that they would safely depart Earth, let alone safely reach the moon, walk on it, and then come back. No matter how many years pass, Armstrong’s countenance bears the burden of what astronauts must experience before every launch.
Apollo 11 lifted off from launch complex 39 at Cape Canaveral at 9:32 am Eastern time. At 363 feet, the Saturn V is still the largest rocket ever made by humans. The cloudy plume appearing around the middle of the rocket is created by the force of it speeding up through the atmosphere. Just seconds after this photo was taken, the rocket became harder to see as the crew departed Earth.