The greatest exploration event in human history.
Probably the greatest technical, engineering effort of the 20th Century.
Some today write it off as a 'Cold War relic'.
This misses a fundamental point, many, if not most, of great explorations of Earth in recorded history, came about not through altruism or plain curiosity.
Did Columbus take his trip in the hope of discovering new plants and animals?
Others may say 'what did it do for us?'
Where to start on that?
The effort drove advances in many areas, aerospace, materials, microelectronics, medicine but most of all, the view of Earth as a fragile oasis in the darkness of space certainly had an effect.
In raising awareness to new levels of issues that ironically, many who doubt the wisdom of the venture say should have been a priority over Apollo.
Humans respond to such visual stimuli far more than from words.
The most reproduced image of all time, is Apollo 17's view of Earth on it's journey home, with Antarctica and the bottom and Africa shown as the main land-mass in this view.
It was expensive, however in the same period, the US spent over four times as much in Vietnam.
The facilities and infrastructure funded at the peak spending period up to 1965/66, is largely still in use today.
But, the Apollo missions themselves provided a mass of science data, some might say 'who cares about a barren ball of lifeless rock like the Moon?'
Aside from the huge effect our satellite has on our world, it's a pretty good Rosetta Stone for the early life of our Solar System, not eroded away by atmospheres and liquids.
The missions also provided the clearest and most likely theory yet, on how the Moon came to be our satellite, how it formed.
This was simply not known before.
But Apollo 15 Astronaut Dave Scott said it best, as he stepped on to the Moon in 1971, Man must explore.
It takes courage to be a jet fighter pilot, a test pilot, even more to be an Astronaut of any kind.
But there is something exponentially brave in going to a place, with no way to support life itself, with no rescue capability, in fragile craft with unproven technology, just their
small spacecraft, the distant Earth, with infinite blackness beyond.
Where your thumb held up can obscure the Earth, where everything you know, where you soon have to return, exists.
Mike Collins reflected, on his vigil in Lunar Orbit, there was the 3 billion on the Earth, Neil and Buzz on the Moon, then me and after that, god knows what!
And these men were not eccentric loners with few responsibilities beyond themselves, nearly all were married with children.
Neil Armstrong is the greatest pilot of all time.
This takes nothing away from all the other greats, from his early flying, to combat (aged 20!) in primitive early jets from aircraft carriers over Korea, to his accomplishments as
a test pilot culminating in the X-15, to saving Gemini VIII from disaster, to doing a masterclass in coolness, rigour, courage and ability to improvise, as the delicate technology wavered, as he landed on the Moon.
That alone would be enough.
But this quiet man, not given to rhetoric flights-and not trained for it either, found it in himself, in a situation that would paralyse most of us with fear, wonder, or both, to so
eloquently sum up this moment of triumph at the edge of human existence.
That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind
No wasted words, no self aggrandisement, no nationalistic hubris, just the best statement to possibly make.
One that no professional PR
type could ever draft.
Maybe it's another triumph of Armstrong that despite everything, all the pressures and demands, he has not sought fame for the sake of it since, nor profit either.
In an age where modern media technology allows the vainglorious, the unworthy, the immoral, the cheat, or just those who really do not have the talents they claim, to become
famous, Armstrong's careful rationing of the fame he achieved by default, is an example to us all.
He's no recluse, he's just very grounded and sensible.
He does contribute where he thinks he can be of use, if that is not not enough for some, so be it.
His crew-mate was, as humans are, a different sort of personality.
But, his courage was the same, his commitment as true.
Aldrin did find it harder to adapt afterwards, but he has channelled his achievements into being an advocate of space exploration, he's found a way to deal with what he did with
Armstrong 40 years ago.
His own description of what was before him on the Moon also rings through history, magnificent desolation.
In truth Apollo 11 was not much about actual exploration, that would come to the fore in later missions, which Apollo 11 made possible.
But in their short time on the Lunar surface, they did the very best job they could with the time and resources available.
In a spacecraft that was so light it could not even support itself in Earth gravity, which was so fragile and the result of an astonishingly fast development effort, they had one
engine to ascend.
Then they had to dock in Lunar orbit with Collins in the CM
, something done only twice before, only once before in Lunar orbit.
To have a hope of going through a 25,000 mph reentry shrouded in fire, to get home.
While enthusiasts like myself may regret the Apollo effort was curtailed, President Kennedy had never said anything about landing more than once.
Indeed, the Apollo system as it existed them, was considerably enhanced enough to allow the amazing later landings, full on exploration efforts.
I'd love to say I remember this time, I was just that bit too young to be honest.
But it's enthralled me since and still does.
In 1999, photographer Michael Light, reproduced in a stunning collection, many images from Apollo, both in book form, but also it toured in art galleries.
When it came to London, I and my girlfriend at the time went to see it, she had no interest in the subject really, though that changed some after seeing these astonishing
images over whole walls in dust grain detail.
Beyond the technical and scientific interest they portrayed, were the splashes of humanity, Charlie Duke's family picture left in the Lunar soil, the texture and often lunar dirt
ingrained suits worn by the astronauts as they went about their (very hard) work.
The sheer sense of void, when you drank the images in, it seemed to be the closest you could actually sense to being there.
I even found myself, in the my mind, imagining the sound of the suits cooling apparatus, the breathing in of the tinny oxygen, the crackle of radio communications, the only
sound in an airless void.
Apollo, like all human achievements, had costs and losses.
The Apollo 1 crew, the stresses and strains, both health and in personal lives that this mighty effort created.
But the 400,000 Americans who were a part of it were the descendants of those who built the pyramids, explored the Earth, made great discoveries.
And today, on the Lunar surface, in ascent stages, tracks, footprints, scientific gear and yes waste products, in new craters formed by impacts of spent stages and craft, their
great work still sits and will do beyond any foreseeable future.
The true meaning of immortality.