US marks Apollo mission 50 years on

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(Cape Canaveral) – Fifty years after a mighty rocket set off from Florida carrying the first humans to the Moon, a veteran of the Apollo 11 crew returned to its fabled launch pad to commemorate “one giant leap” that became a defining moment in human history.

“We crew felt the weight of the world on our shoulders, we knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe,” command module pilot Michael Collins said from the Kennedy Space Center.

He and Buzz Aldrin, who piloted the module that landed on the Moon´s surface, are the two surviving members from the mission that would change the way humanity saw its place in the universe.

Their commander Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, died in 2012 aged 82.

The spacecraft took four days to reach the Moon, before the module known as the “Eagle” — whence the iconic phrase “the Eagle has landed” — touched the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

Armstrong emerged a few hours later, descending to the foot of the ladder, as he uttered the immortal line: “That´s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module Columbia, their only means of returning to Earth.

“I always think of a flight to the Moon as being a long and fragile daisy chain of events,” the 88-year-old said at launch pad 39A, at the first of many events planned across the week.

These include the return of Armstrong´s suit to the Air and Space Museum in Washington after more than a decade of restoration work.

The Washington Monument will be lit up between July 16 and 18 with a life-size, 363-foot (111-meter) projection of the colossal Saturn V rocket built by ex-Nazi Wernher Von Braun.