Moon landing was a watershed moment in human history

The anniversary will actually be at 10:56 tonight.

Half a century ago, parents were waking their children; partiers, night workers, even Major League Baseball came to a stop. We all tuned in to a late-night broadcast, to see something miraculous — something that could only happen once.

It was the first time a human being stepped on a celestial body not named Earth.

The historic moment in time was preceded by years of planning. It started on Sept. 12, 1962, at Rice University, where President John F. Kennedy laid the challenge before us:

“For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. … We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard …”

Not five years later, NASA was ready to put the first Apollo vehicle in space. The pilots — Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White — became the first casualties of the space program in a launch pad accident. We moved forward.

Between October 1968 and May 1969, four additional Apollo flights took place as our progress toward the moon continued. The last two missions included the lunar module, the vehicle that allowed us to land upon and leave the moon.

On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins began the mission that would change life, and history, forever.

It’s now 4:17 on the afternoon of July 20, 1969. The lunar module Eagle reaches the surface of the moon. After completing a post-landing checklist and shutting down the lunar module, Armstrong uttered the first words to the public from Earth’s lone satellite:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Six hours and 40 minutes passed before Armstrong went down the ladder and uttered the words that will forever be associated with our lexicon:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Today, 50 years later, let us remember not just the men and women who got us to the moon — where just 12 men have set foot — answering Kennedy’s challenge, but the legacy they leave in terms of technological advances and dozens of products that are part of our everyday lives.