Fifty years ago today, more than 650 million people witnessed one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind. It was July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong spoke those now legendary words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he took his first steps on the moon, while people all over the world stood transfixed by their radios and television sets.
It was a surreal vision that captured the hearts and minds of people everywhere when Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounced along the gray, alien surface of the moon while Michael Collins orbited above them, the giant Earth looming in the background. This was the final realization of more than 400,000 people — engineers, doctors, scientists, mechanics and many more who all came together to make this dream a reality.
Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy, Fla., and traveled approximately 240,000 miles to the moon. Among the cargo that made the journey was a small silicone disc, slightly larger than a quarter, with the words “From Planet Earth” etched at the top. On this small unassuming disk were 73 messages of goodwill, recorded by world leaders from every corner of the globe. These messages were etched onto the disc in letters that are one-quarter the width of an average human hair.
The messages contained a statement from Queen Elizabeth II, who wrote, “On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which brought man to the moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well being of mankind.” Pope Paul VI wrote, “To the glory of the name of God who gives power to such men, we ardently pray for this humble beginning.”
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson stated, “We are determined that space shall be an avenue towards peace and we both invite and welcome all men to join with us in this great opportunity,” echoing the themes of peace and unity found through nearly every message. “Today conquest of extra terrestrial space — with its attendant unknowns — recreates our perspectives and enhances our paradigms,” wrote the president of Mexico, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.
It was one of the few times in history when so many world leaders were excited to share a moment, and who in turn wanted to impart a message of togetherness as we pushed through the unknown, not as individual ethnicities or nationalities, but as a collective of humans. It was a promise of a hopeful future, on a tiny piece of plastic that would be casually tossed to the surface by Armstrong. “OK?” he asked Aldrin after the package containing the disc hit the ground. “OK,” Aldrin responded as the two walked away from the disc’s final resting spot, where it remains to this day.
Before leaving the moon, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins left one final message — a plaque, showing both sides of the globe and the signatures of all three astronauts as well as President Richard Nixon, and an inscription that reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”