WASHINGTON • The United States yesterday marked the day 50 years ago that Nasa landed astronauts on the Moon, one of the space agency's crowning achievements and an anniversary that it hopes will inspire a return to the Moon and beyond.
Space enthusiasts and Moon gazers around the world paused at 4.17pm (4.17am today, Singapore time) - the exact moment in 1969 when the module carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.
Nasa has been in overdrive for several weeks to mark the anniversary, with exhibits and events nationwide, most notably at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.
Festivities culminated when Vice-President Mike Pence marked the anniversary at Kennedy Space Centre, where the men took off from, followed by evening events in Washington, including a concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and a show at the National Mall featuring an image of the Saturn V rocket projected onto the Washington Monument.
US, Italian and Russian astronauts blasted off into space in a launch coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, Nasa's Andrew Morgan, and Italian Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency travelled to the International Space Station shortly after midnight Singapore time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
On Friday, President Donald Trump welcomed surviving Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the White House, using the occasion to tell his space chief to go straight to Mars without returning to the Moon.
It is a theme he had touched on earlier, but on Friday, he drew on the support of the two former astronauts, who are taking part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of their mission, to make his case to Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Mr Trump asked Mr Collins for his opinion on whether to go to the Moon first or straight to Mars. The former astronaut, aged 88 and gripping Mr Trump's desk for balance, had a ready reply: "Mars direct."
Relatives of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the Moon, were also present, and Mr Trump asked them to raise their hands.
The President hailed his administration's efforts to relaunch crewed space flights with planned missions to the Moon and Mars.
"We are bringing the glamour back to it," he said.
With the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the United States achieved the ultimate victory in the Space Race after losing the initial heats to the Soviet Union, which was first to put a satellite and then a man in space.
Mr Armstrong and Mr Aldrin collected Moon rocks and stuck an American flag into the dusty surface before departing the next day to meet up with Mr Collins in the command module and return to Earth.
It was a resounding achievement not just from a technical perspective but also a diplomatic one, as the two superpowers jostled for global prestige in the Cold War.
Mr Trump has relaunched the race to re-conquer the Moon - this time with the first woman - and to journey onward to the Red Planet.
But the deadlines - 2024 and 2033 respectively - appear unrealistic and have caused turbulence within the space agency.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA, REUTERS
PM Lee shares memories of historic day
Among those marking the historic day when astronauts first landed on the Moon 50 years ago was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
On his Facebook page yesterday, Mr Lee wrote: "I was 17 when I joined millions around the world to watch the magnificent Saturn V rocket launch from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on July 16, 1969, and four days later on July 20, watched in awe as a human being stepped off the Apollo 11 lunar module and onto the moon for the first time."
He added: "It marked one of the most inspirational achievements in human history."
Mr Lee, who also shared The Straits Times' graphic, "50 Amazing Moon Landing Facts", said there have been many excellent articles and features in the past week celebrating the anniversary.
He highlighted how the Science Centre Singapore and ArtScience Museum have also planned events and exhibitions to commemorate the moon landing.