July 20, 1969: "The Eagle has landed!"

(To Matteo Acciaccarelli)

They were the 20: 18 UTC of the 20 July 1969, when Neil Armstrong, commander of the mission Apollo 11, he placed his feet on the lunar ground for the first time, pronouncing the famous phrase: "A small step for man, a great step for humanity". It was the culmination of a dream, which seemed like utopia, and of many missions and studies done by NASA to beat the Soviets on time in space race. The Cold War was at the height of its heat and while on Earth the United States was engaged in the disastrous war in Vietnam and the USSR had recently withdrawn its missiles from the island of Cuba, space was the real battleground "Direct" between the two blocks.

From 4 October 1957, the day on which the USSR managed to bring the first satellite into space, the Sputnik 1, at the 20 July 1969 the events that characterized the "space race" followed one another quickly. With the Sputnik 2, in the same 1957, the first living being in space was sent into orbit by the Soviets, ie the dog Laika, then in the 1960, again from the Soviet Union, two other dogs were sent and sent back to earth. The United States was not looking and, while Gagarin became the first man to go into space, the space program continued to march in tight stages, so much so that in the 1961 also NASA sent its first man in space, or John Glenn which orbited three times around the earth before returning. The Soviet Union, however, seemed to have a clear advantage in the "space race", an advantage that was confirmed when the Soviet space agency first sent a crew of three men into orbit and then when they succeeded, the 18 March 1965, with Leonov to carry out the first space "walk".

All these human studies in space, however, were aimed at two objectives, one linked to the other, that is: to get first on the Moon and, consequently, to demonstrate its supremacy on the counterpart. The Moon, the natural satellite that has always struck the human being was the "final" goal. Precisely for this reason NASA developed the mission Apollo, conceived during the Eisenhower presidency and confirmed in its final role by President Kennedy.

Getting to the Moon first meant having the best possible vector and, for this purpose, Wernher von Braun, the German engineer who had built the proto intercontinental missile, the German V-2, was called upon to direct the missile development. The appointment of von Braun was a stroke of genius on the part of the US administration because a man of great experience and foresight could be added to the recent studies on missiles and rockets: he had always dreamed of reaching space with one of his carriers. His high hopes began to turn into reality when he obtained the opportunity from the Pentagon to further develop the program. Saturn. Thanks to his studies and - above all - to his inventiveness, von Braun, naturally with his staff, developed the vector that would go down in history as the one that brought man to the moon: the Saturn V (photo).

Before arriving at Saturn Vhowever, the Apollo mission carried out many studies of both propulsion and the capabilities and characteristics of other study carriers. These tests went ahead from the 1961 up to the 1968, year in which with the mission Apollo 7 onboard a Saturn IB the first three astronauts of the program flew into space. It was the last mission of the obsolete Saturn IB, because in the meantime the development and tests on the Saturn V had come to an end: the space vector that would have brought man to the moon was ready. It was a gigantic multistage space rocket (well 3, nda) with liquid propellant and to bring the 2.000 tons of weight of the rocket out of the earth's orbit it was equipped with 5 F-1 engines, capable (each!) Of a thrust equal to about 690348 kg. An impressive power, for what was in effect an impressive rocket. To the extraordinary beauty and ability of the Saturn V, answered the same as well Apollo Lunar Module (LEM, Lunar Excursion Module), which was tested in the two missions Apollo 9 e Apollo 10, the first turning point in the earth's orbit and the second in the lunar orbit. All this was necessary for the final tests of the LEM, tests that were carried out to perfection both by the crews and by the Lunar Module.

The goal they had set for NASA was close. The 16 July 1969 at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, are embarked on Saturn V, intended for the mission Apollo 11, the three astronauts whose names will remain in the history of the "space race": Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, respectively commander, pilot of the command module and LEM pilot.

The launch of the Saturn V was "American", thousands of people around the base and millions glued to televisions admiring the power of the vector built by the genius of von Braun. In Italy it was told by Tito Stagno in the extraordinary edition of TG1 who at the beginning said: "We should be used to it now, but this time the atmosphere is different, the emotion is different and the company that is about to start is different". An unthinkable mission, the crowning of man's dream, arriving on the Moon and reviewing those videos the time before the launch seemed never to pass, eventually the 13.32 UTC arrived and the Apollo 11 set off towards its destination.

4 days, and back to that very famous 20 July, the LEM was unhooked from the command module in the lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin went down to the lunar surface and, while from Italy always Stagno shouted: "He touched! He touched!"(Actually with slight advance on the actual landing, nda), Armstrong communicated to Houston:"Houston, here Base of Tranquility. The Eagle (the codename of the LEM) it has landed". They were the 20.17 UTC, the 22.17 in Italy, and the man had arrived for the first time on the Moon.

After Apollo 11 there were five more missions that ended with the moon landing, and it would have been six if it had not been for the accident, not fatal, of the Apollo 13.

The 20 July 1969 will remain forever in the memory of humanity, to further confirm the phrase of Armstrong, as we will remain all the men who have allowed man to get to walk on the moon.

(photo: NASA / web)