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Marking the lunar landings

Tom Feilden | 09:04 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

It's 40 years since Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins blasted off from Cape Canaveral on the first leg of a truly epic adventure.

For the first time in history a human being would set foot on another world.

To mark the achievement we've put together a series of pieces and interviews that have kept pace with the mission, from launch day on Thursday the 16th July to the landing and that fisrt small step on the 20th.

Buzz Aldrin on the MoonYou can hear them all here:
Apollo 11 you are go for TLI (16 July 2009)
The miracle of Apollo 11 landing (17 July 2009)
The cultural impact of Apollo era (18 July 2009)
Final preparations for first step (20 July 2009)
Nasa makes plans for Mars landing (21 July 2009)

We're often told - in a rather glib way - what a staggering feat of scientific and technical engineering the lunar landings were, and when president John F. Kennedy set the ball rolling in 1961, many of those involved thought it couldn't be done.

The consumer age had barely begun in the early 1960's, and the mobile phone and personal computer were still the stuff of science fiction. And yet the Apollo programme managed to fire 12 men - they were all men - more than 244,000 miles across the vast expanse of empty space, land on the moon, and bring them safely home in less than a decade.

Looking back the Apollo era does seem like a moment out of time. As the Astronaut Gene Cernan described it....like a decade plucked from the 21st century and dragged - by sheer force of presidential will - into the 20th.

But like the sixties themselves, and the era of the counter culture it paralleled, the Apollo programme is marked by a strong sense of unfinished business.

Many of those who took part saw themselves as pioneers in the continuous exploration of space. By now there would be permanent bases on the moon, regular trips to near-earth objects like asteroids, and maybe even the first manned mission to Mars.

Today NASA's mantra is "the moon, Mars and beyond", but its still not clear whether President Obama will commit America to the astronomical sums involved.

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