Note: This is an updated article from 2012.
“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”
I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 48 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven, and inspired.
More giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first and to this date still very much the biggest.
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On Feb. 3, 1966 the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made the first successful robotic soft landing on the Moon. Seven hours later it transmitted its first images of the lunar surface back to Earth. The image above is Luna 9 lander’s first view—the first time humans had ever seen a picture from the surface of another world.
These days anyone with a cheap point-and-shoot camera or even a cell phone can snap a picture of the Moon (although I highly advise using at least an entry-level dSLR) but there was a time when that wasn’t the case. Go back to the late 1830s, when photography was in its infancy and methods for capturing light and shadows for posterity were on the cutting edge of invention, and the Moon was an elusive target for even the most skilled practitioners. But, in March of 1840, John William Draper changed that with his lunar “portrait”—the world’s first true astrophoto.
“This is the first time that anything like a distinct representation of the moon’s surface has been obtained.”
— Contemporary description of Draper’s 1840 daguerreotype