The Greatest Leap, part 3: The triumph and near-tragedy of the first Moon landing


Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript.

A vast, gray expanse loomed just a few hundred meters below as Neil Armstrong peered out his tiny window. From inside the spidery lunar lander, a fragile cocoon with walls only about as thick as construction paper, the Apollo 11 commander finally had a clear view of where the on-board computer had directed him to land.

He did not like what he saw there. A big crater. Boulders strewn all around. A death trap.

To make matters worse, Eagle had limited fuel reserves. If Armstrong couldn’t find a safe landing site soon, he would have to ditch the bottom half of the lander and burn like hell for lunar orbit in a dangerous and risky abort procedure. Otherwise, he and Buzz Aldrin would not only become the first humans to land on the Moon, they’d become the first humans to die there, too.

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