U.S. Lands First Men on the Moon

U.S. #C76 was the first jumbo-sized U.S. commemorative.

On July 20, 1969, the U.S. effectively won the Space Race when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took man’s first steps on the Moon.

The space race began 12 years earlier, on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union used rocket technology developed by the Germans in World War II to launch Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Originally, Sputnik was intended to be a massive, thousand-pound satellite. However, because the Americans were attempting to launch their own satellite, the decision was made to scale back the design considerably. At the time of launch, Sputnik was no bigger than a basketball.

U.S. #2419 was issued on the 20th anniversary of the Moon landing.

Success continued for the Soviets during the next few years. In 1959, they sent two rockets to the moon, one that landed and another that transmitted photos of the moon’s dark side. Later that year, they sent two dogs into orbit and brought them both home safely.

Success kept coming to the Soviets, but by far the biggest blow yet to the Americans happened on April 12, 1961. On that day, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. It was this event that caused President Kennedy to seek a goal that the United States had a good shot at attaining before the Soviets. After consulting with Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and NASA officials, the decision was made to attempt to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

Even after Kennedy’s announcement, victories kept coming for the Soviets. The Soviet Space program was responsible for having two cosmonauts in space at the same time, the first woman in space, and the first space walk. But, in January 1966, just as the Soviets were preparing to plan for sending a man to the moon, Sergei Korolev, the person most responsible for Soviet success, died.

U.S. #2841 was issued for the 25th anniversary of the Moon landing.

Meanwhile, the United States was getting ever closer to Kennedy’s goal. The culmination of the Space Race with the Soviet Union, the Apollo 11 mission launched from Florida on July 16, 1969.

Four days later, on July 20, 1969, their Eagle lunar module approached the Moon. The landing module touched down in a place called “West Crater,” which was scattered with boulders. After the landing, Aldrin requested everyone “…to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

Aldrin, who was an elder in his church, then proceeded to receive Communion from a kit prepared for him by his pastor. This was blacked out of the broadcast due to an ongoing lawsuit filed against NASA concerning the crew of the Apollo 8 mission reading from the “Book of Genesis.”

U.S. #3188c – Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the Moon.

After the landing was completed, the crew began preparations for the Moonwalk. They had originally planned a five-hour sleep period, but it was decided they would be too excited to sleep.

Then, at 10:56 p.m. EDT, Armstrong set his left foot down upon the surface of the Moon at calling it, “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and described the scene as “magnificent desolation.” Back on Earth, the world watched through a live television feed.

The Moonwalk wasn’t just symbolic – Armstrong and Aldrin had several tasks to perform. One of them included planting the American flag. They first had to get used to walking around on the Moon. They took photographs, collected rock and dust samples and set out equipment to transmit readings. After about two-and-a-half hours, they then returned to the landing module and went to sleep.

But this was the era of the Space Race, and the Soviet Union had launched an unmanned spacecraft three days before the Apollo 11 mission took off. As the U.S. astronauts slept, Luna 15 began its descent to the Moon’s surface. It was the third attempt by the Soviets to collect lunar soil, and the third failure. Luna 15 crashed into the Moon, likely on the side of a mountain.

U.S. #C76 FDC bears a First Day cancel and a Moon Landing cancel dated July 20, 1969.

After a much-deserved rest, the U.S. astronauts blasted off from the Moon’s surface – unfortunately toppling the American flag they had planted. In future lunar landings, the flag was placed no closer than 100 feet from the modules, so as not to repeat that mistake.

The Eagle docked with the Columbia, where fellow astronaut Michael Collins had been waiting. The Eagle was released into orbit around the Moon, and NASA scientists later assumed that it crashed to the surface after a few months.

The Columbia Command Module, a 10-foot-long cone, was all that remained of the massive Saturn V rocket that began the journey. The Saturn V was 363 feet long and weighed 6,699,000 pounds (Columbia weighed 13,000 pounds). The journey home lasted three days, and the crew had to make only one correction.

Item #59226E – Moon landing coin First Day Cover.

On July 24, the Command Module separated and began its descent to Earth. The bottom of the module faced the surface and had special heat shields that would burn away during re-entry, to prevent build-up of heat. The parachute opened after 195 hours and 13 minutes in space. The Apollo 11 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where Navy ship USS Hornet was nearby. They were finally home. And President Kennedy’s vision was realized. America had effectively won the Space Race, and was ready to embark on a new era in space exploration.

The three Apollo 11 astronauts were honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City soon after returning to Earth. Armstrong received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award offered to a U.S. civilian. His other awards included the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, seventeen medals from other countries, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Did you know?

The engraved master dies for U.S. #C76 above traveled to the Moon with the Apollo 11 crew. An envelope bearing a proof of the stamp was also canceled in the space module. And the First Day Cover for that stamp was the most popular ever.

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  1. I am still remember that I watched on CBS ch 5 (Walter Cronkite and co host Wally Schirra) during Apollo 11’s moon landing with my family on July 20 1969 without a closed captioned.

  2. I’m old enough to remember the entire decade, and watching TV as Armstrong stepped onto the moon. you have added much detail that I didn’t know. Thanks, Mystic for helping us to relive that time so long ago now.

  3. My college physics teacher refused to reschedule a test for the next day. Lost some sleep to watch. I remember Armstrong – don’t remember my college physics teacher.

  4. My sister, my best friend and I spent that summer at my grandparents house in Connecticut. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the television set watching as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and being in complete awe that a human being was actually walking on the moon. Thank you. What a wonderful memory…

  5. Fantastic history. I remember watching this on tv. Cant wait for the manned mission to Mars (yes, I may be dreaming but that’s what drives humanity). Interesting fact about a lawsuit against NASA. Forgot that there were idiots back then as there are now. (haha).

  6. We just read about Betty Boop and the cartoon characters of the movie. I remember growing up watching the “Buck Rogers” serials at our local movie house. Who would have thought that a few years later we would be viewing the real thing. I think that every American was shocked at “Sputnik” and glued to their TV when an American planted the first human footprint in the dust of the moon. We were a proud united nation that day and we still are the “Greatest Nation on Earth”. Don’t let anyone tell you different! I am holding a copy of that stamp about and proud of it.

  7. Was on a family vacation from WI to Philidelphia too visit my mother’s aunt.
    First major, long vacation of the east coast and historic location. Arrived in Philly in time to war the landing with about twenty people in a small living room around an old fashion b&w TV console.

  8. Fantastic! I remember racing home from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco to view the upcoming landing on t.v. Absolutely NO cars on the freeway – all settled in – in anticipation. No chance to record the event in those days…

  9. I remember I was at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio Texas taking advance training. We were able to go to the the base theatre and see broadcast of the landing. Was a great day for America and hope great days come again after November 8

  10. This is one flight that I will never forget, it being the first flight to the Moon where men landed. I was fortunate enough to work this flight at the Grand Bahama Island AAF Tracking Station, working with the digital tracking Telemetry equipment. Later we were able to watch the actual first step on the moon by Neil Armstrong, in the base club.

  11. There is one piece of this (minor point) that I think you got wrong. My wife who is Russian, assures me that one of the dogs, Laika, died during reentry. I don’t know which reentry, but she doesn’t recall that either. Not a big deal.

  12. When Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin found his direction there was no stopping him, particularly since his father, Edwin Eugene Aldrin Sr. became the driving force behind him. Upon finding that Buzz was going to be aboard Apollo 11 a celebration of victory ensued. When he found out that his son would not be the first to walk on the moon his father said [paraphrase] You’ve just become the forgotten man. Nobody remembers who came in second.

  13. I wasn’t born just yet, however, I was brought into this world on the 5th anniversary of this historical event… interesting facts to learn regarding communion, reading from book of Genesis & NASA lawsuit. Good for Buzz Aldrin for his faithfulness & devotion & his willingness to allow those watching to witness his communion, but shame on the TV network for failing to share this with his nation & the rest of the world. So much has changed since those days long passed, yet in many ways things are still the same. (Media reporting only what THEY choose to reveal)

  14. I remember it like it was yesterday. We just couldn’t believe it.

    But, Aldrin needs much more credit. He was the one who too the famous foot picture, and it is him in the spacesuit with the visor reflection!

  15. I remember watching it and I love all the stores that you tell when you show the stamp. I think
    I got some because my brother went to the post office and brought me back some, but most of
    all, Mike Collins when he left the team, he ended up working for my husband in Washington D.C.
    at his office. And that was a thrill.l I met him when I went to D.C. and that was just as big a
    thrill for me. thanks again for all the memories

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