1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY; Reaching for the stars 40 years after man first walked on the moon.
Byline: STEPHEN WHITE
FORTY years on not a speck of dust has been disturbed since the first man put his footprint on the moon.
And astronaut Neil Armstrong's bootmark will still be visible in 10 million years' time on the windless surface.
But in the four decades since Armstrong went down in history as the first man to walk on the moon, other things have changed - including man's will to return there.
America spent billions of dollars to place that dusty first footstep on the moon. Yet two years later, after a similar mission was aborted, the axe fell on the Apollo programme.
During his US Presidency, George W Bush tried to revive interest with plans to establish a permanent base on the moon and for man to head to Mars. Today it is unclear whether his successor Barack Obama is behind the grand scheme.
So was that epic 238,000-mile voyage to the moon really, as Armstrong famously put it, a "giant leap for mankind"? All eyes were on Florida on July 16, 1969 when a Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 into Earth's orbit from Cape Kennedy.
The command and service module Columbia and the lunar module Eagle separated from the rocket and continued to the moon, piloted by Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Three days later, Apollo 11 approached its final destination. And after 24 hours in orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin separated Eagle from Columbia, to prepare for a descent.
On July 20 at 4.18pm (9.18pm British Summer Time), their lunar module craft touched down on the moon at Tranquillity Base and Armstrong triumphantly announced: "The Eagle has landed!"
He descended from Eagle's ladder releasing a black and white camera from the module's leg.
Then, touching one foot to the moon's surface in one sixth gravity, he added: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
That phrase itself would spark 40 years of debate. Arguments have raged over whether he actually said: "That's one small step for man" or "That's one small step for a man".
Without the "a", his iconic utterance would not strictly have made sense.
But research has concluded that the apparent crucial missing "a" in Armstrong's Apollo transmission was a slip of the tongue rather than a technical fault. Buzz Aldrin soon joined Armstrong on the moon's surface.
Then the following day, it was all over.
Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off on a belching tower of rocket blast.
Their glorious adventure had been watched by people all over the globe - the majority blissfully unaware that the mission had actually come close to disaster.
It might have seemed hi-tech at the time but the Apollo 11 astronauts used sextants, slide rules and a computer which had less processing power than a modern mobile phone. Eagle itself was so delicate it was described as a "tissue-paper spacecraft".
As Armstrong fired its engines to control the descent, a yellow low-fuel master alarm in the capsule began to flash. For 30 seconds the mission seemed doomed. Then the alarm suddenly stopped.
With just seconds of fuel left, Armstrong displayed some skilled piloting and settled the lander on the Sea of Tranquillity - narrowly avoiding a boulder field that would have wrecked the craft.
Aldrin recalled: "Our eyes met. I remember just patting him on the back."
Armstrong has a different memory. "We shook hands," he insisted recently.
"Maybe it was both," added Aldrin.
Unfortunately, the landing failed to shake loose the Eagle's external ladder to its full extent. Armstrong had to jump several feet down on to the lunar surface. Aldrin also had to remember not to close the spaceship's door behind him - Nasa had forgotten to put a handle on the outside and, if shut out, neither of them could get back in.
Also, while suiting up in Eagle, Aldrin's backpack knocked off a plastic switch which controlled the power to the engine.
A few minutes before take-off, he noticed the problem and operated the switch using a felt-tip pen. It could have been fatal, instead a nation's dream had been fulfilled.
America had been inspired by President Kennedy's wish in 1961, of "before this decade is out, landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth".
And after JFK was assassinated in 1963, space flight became a way of showing the world what the US would have achieved had he lived.
Days after Apollo 11's return to Earth, someone put a message on Kennedy's grave: "Mr President, the Eagle has landed."
Yet even as the crew of Apollo 11 were celebrating their success, moon missions were already coming to an end and Nasa's budget was being cut.
Welcoming back the Apollo 11 crew, President Nixon said: "This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation."
Yet at a later Apollo party, Nixon said: "Here's to the Apollo programme. It's all over." America had spent billions with the aim of winning the race with the Russians to be the first to put a man on the moon. After that triumph, there was nowhere to go.
Just two years later, on a similar lunar mission, Apollo 13 limped back to Earth having suffered an explosion that destroyed all hopes of another landing.
This time it was the drama of keeping the astronauts alive for 87 hours in freezing temperatures that had the world on the edge of its seat. Then America's space programme was axed.
Apollos 18, 19 and 20 were cancelled and Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt were the last to walk on the Moon.
On December 14, 1972, after bouncing across the Sea of Serenity in the mission's lunar rover and collecting 100lb of rocks, the astronauts prepared to blast off.
"We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind," Gene Cernan announced.
Then he switched off his microphone and turning to Schmitt said: "OK, Jack, let's get this mother outta here."
That air of resignation contrasted wildly with the awed atmosphere at Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969. More than a million people had gathered to watch the blast-off of Apollo 11, the most powerful rocket ever built.
As it cleared the tower, its five giant engines were burning more than 1,000 gallons of fuel a second.
The air vibrated so much people could feel their skin shake. Many of them were overcome with emotion.
Author Arthur C Clarke recalled: "I cried for the first time in 20 years - and prayed for the first time in 40." Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS TV anchorman was, for once, lost for words, especially as the rocket's vibrations had blown the roof off his studio.
But three years later, Apollo had become a closed ambition. Having beaten the Soviets - despite the Russians crash landing a probe on to the surface of the moon minutes before the Eagle landed - the politicians couldn't see what else to do.
Nasa had enough space hardware left for nine more landings leading up to a grand finale - Apollo 20 and a touchdown in the Copernicus crater.
But it was not to be.
Apollo 12 descended into the Ocean of Storms and when it returned Apollo 20 had been cancelled and 18 and 19 were uncertain.
Apollo 14 landed in the Fra Mauro highlands, touching down on material ejected billions of years ago from the great Imbrium basin, 400 miles north. And Apollo 15 landed near a vast chasm in the lunar surface, Hadley Rille.
Apollo 16 was guided to the central highlands in April 1972 and Apollo 17 set down in a steep canyon in December of the same year.
And then it was over. It would be almost 40 years before George W Bush would declare the Apollo programme the best investment since Leonardo da Vinci bought a sketchpad.
He proposed a grandiose return to the moon with manned lunar missions resuming in 2020.
Nasa said the base would outpost built near one of serve as a science the moon's poles, as well as a testing facility for technologies needed for future manned missions to Mars.
The space agency even chose a handful of astronauts to begin training. But a cloud now hangs over the Constellation programme, the successor to the Space Shuttle.
In March, Barack Obama said: "I grew up on Star Trek and I believe in the final frontier."
But he expressed dismay about the way the space shuttle programme was being run and said funding would be cut until mission objectives were clear.
He said: "Nasa has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration," he said.
And with other pressing problems closer to home, it is unclear if man wants to go in to orbit again.
WE HAVE LIFT OFF APOLLO LAUNCH EAGLE IN FLIGHT BACK TO CRAFT GIANT STEP FAMOUS PRINT MOMENTOUS EVENT HOW WE TOLD STORY SALUTE TO FLAG BY LUNAR MODULE REFLECTED GLORIES NEIL WALKS ON MOON