Today marks 50 years since American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon. It was, in his words, “a giant leap for mankind”. Half a century on, it remains a remarkable feat, not least for the boldness of the vision and the harnessing of the talent and resources that went into the mission. Success was not assured – president Richard Nixon had a speech prepared extolling the sacrifice of the Apollo 11 crew in the event of failure. The lunar mission also had its detractors. America then, as now, was deeply divided over race and gender issues. Students protested not just against the Vietnam War but also funding for the Moonshot that they felt could have been put to better use fighting pollution and social inequality. But the mission went ahead.
America First, then as now, was the order of the day. Stunned by Soviet space triumphs, president John F. Kennedy challenged US space agency Nasa to be the first to put a man on the Moon. At its peak, over 400,000 people and 200 universities were involved in the lunar project. Echoes of that 1969 Apollo mission resonate today, even as much has changed. Mr Donald Trump wants an encore by 2024. National bragging rights, in a much more competitive field, are one reason for a revived interest in the Moon. India and China are ambitious new space explorers. China aims to have its own astronauts and a research station on the Moon by the 2030s. American tech tycoons Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have joined the fray, and their space visions extend beyond the Moon.