The largest object left behind, of course, was the lower half of the Eagle, which, affixed to one of its legs, bore a plaque inscribed with both hemispheres of the Earth, the signatures of the three astronauts and President Nixon, and the inscription:
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969, A.D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
Apollo 11’s Legacy
The next three days were, for the astronauts, anticlimactic, even boring. About halfway home, they transmitted the final color television transmission from the cabin of Columbia, during which each of the crewmen reflected on their experiences. Each of them took the opportunity to point out that the moon mission was an achievement for which thousands, even millions, deserved credit. Said Armstrong:
The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort; next with the American people, who have, through their will, indicated their desire; next with four administrations and their Congresses, for implementing that will; and then, with the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU, the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface. We would like to give special thanks to all those Americans who built the spacecraft; who did the construction, design, the tests, and put their hearts and all their abilities into those craft. To those people tonight, we give a special thank you, and to all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.
The trip back to Earth was so uneventful that only one of four planned course corrections was required. Columbia entered the atmosphere of the Earth at 12:35 p.m. on July 25, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. After arriving on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were rushed into a quarantine chamber designed to protect the rest of the world from the remote possibility of contamination from “moon germs” or lunar microorganisms. Of all the otherworldly images of the Apollo 11 mission, one of the strangest is the photograph of the three astronauts, sealed inside their quarantine chamber, being greeted by President Nixon, who was aboard the Hornet for the occasion.
It is often pointed out – and it seems worth remembering – that Apollo 11, inspired in the 1950s by mortal fear of the Cold War enemy, resulted in perhaps the most powerful expression of hope ever shared by the people of the world.
It is no exaggeration to say that, upon the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts, the entire world rejoiced. Even the Soviet Union, mirroring the astronaut’s goodwill gesture of enshrining Gagarin and Komarov on the moon, offered its heartfelt congratulations.
In fact, political leaders the world over viewed Apollo 11 as possibly the most historic success ever achieved by humankind, and it became a touchstone for optimists the world over: What couldn’t we do, if we could do this? Golda Meir, Israel’s new Prime Minister, publicly expressed the wish that Apollo 11’s achievement of the impossible could pave the way to the universal peace predicted by the prophets of Israel.
Today many people, jaded by the intervening years of conflict and bloodshed around the world, would probably regard such a sentiment as naïve. But many thought the same thing of President Kennedy on May 25, 1961, when he challenged Americans to find a way to the moon. It is often pointed out – and it seems worth remembering – that Apollo 11, inspired in the 1950s by mortal fear of the Cold War enemy, resulted in perhaps the most powerful expression of hope ever shared by the people of the world.