Fifty years ago, a rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew blasted off from Earth on its historic mission to land humans on the moon. The mission launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

An estimated 650 million people watched on TV on July 20 as Armstrong took the first step on the moon's surface. They heard him say, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (At the time, news outlets reported the phrase as "That's one giant step for man," but Armstrong insists he says "for a man" and the distinction has been argued ever since.)

The Apollo 11 mission, the first manned lunar mission, launched from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969 and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969.
The mission launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Apollo 11 was the fifth crewed mission of NASA's Apollo program. It was launched by a Saturn V rocket that produced "a holocaust of flames as it rose from its pad at Launch complex 39," according to NASA. The rocket was 363 feet tall and weighted 6.4 million pounds.

Apollo 11 mission officials relax in the Launch Control Center following the successful Apollo 11 liftoff on July 16, 1969.
Apollo 11 mission officials are all smiles in the Launch Control Center following the successful Apollo 11 liftoff on July 16, 1969. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

A moment of relief and euphoria at the Launch Control Center after the successful liftoff. Pictured fully in the photo are (from left) Charles W. Mathews, deputy associate administrator for Manned Space Flight; Dr. Wernher von Braun, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center; George Mueller, associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight; and Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, director of the Apollo Program. (For clarity, the two men on the far left, the one at the far right who is not fully in the photo and the man in the background are not named.)

One of the first steps taken on the moon, this is an image of Buzz Aldrin's bootprint from the Apollo 11 mission.
Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the moon. The image marks one of the first steps taken by the astronauts. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20. They spent 21 hours, 36 minutes on the moon's surface.

During their exploration, the astronauts gathered samples of lunar-surface materials. They also photographed the moon's terrain, the lunar module, and each other, both with still and motion picture cameras.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag on the moon's surface.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag on the moon's surface. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Armstrong took this photo of Aldrin near a flag they had planted on the moon's surface. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module, the "Eagle," exploring the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, Collins stayed with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) "Columbia" in lunar-orbit.

Armstrong took this panorama of the landing site with the lunar module in the background at the far left and his shadow in the front left.
Armstrong took this panorama of the landing site with the lunar module in the background at the far left. You can see his shadow at the left. The panorama was assembled by Mike Constantine. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Near the end of his time on the moon's surface, Armstrong strayed far enough from the Lunar Module to take the photos used to construct this wide-angle view. Armstrong's shadow is in the panorama's front left edge; the object near the middle foreground is a stereo close-up camera.

The official Apollo 11 crew portrait: From left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.
The official Apollo 11 crew portrait. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

The Apollo 11 crew, from left: Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin.

Pararescueman Lt. Clancy Hatleberg closes the Apollo 11 spacecraft hatch as astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, Jr., await helicopter pickup from their life raft.
Astronauts await pickup from their life raft. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Pararescueman Lt. Clancy Hatleberg closes the Apollo 11 spacecraft hatch as Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin await helicopter pickup from their life raft. They splashed down at 12:50 p.m. EDT on July 24, 1969, roughly 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Upon splashing down, the Apollo 11 crew underwent a 21-day quarantine. The purpose was to protect against the small possibility of lunar contagion. This shows the astronauts in the Mobile Quarantine Facility.
The astronauts in quarantine. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Upon splashing down, the Apollo 11 crew underwent a 21-day quarantine. The purpose was to protect against the small possibility of lunar contagion. This shows the astronauts in the Mobile Quarantine Facility.

New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue
The astronauts were welcomed home as heroes. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)

New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. You can see the crew waving to the crowd from the open lead car in the left of the photo.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.