Space leaders recall how the Apollo Moon landing gave them inspiration

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By Jeremy Wilks
Space leaders recall how the Apollo Moon landing gave them inspiration

It's one of the most important moments in the history of humanity, an achievement that continues to inspire today.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon 50 years ago, the planet was in awe, including those who'd go on to lead Europe's space sector.

"At that time I was 15 years old and we had a TV, and I was sitting there the whole night,” remembers Jan Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency. “And I was so excited afterwards that I did not go to bed afterwards, so I stayed the whole night."

"I'm so old that I remember the Moon landings, I remember watching it on a big black and white television in the school hall as a kid,” says David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration a the European Space Agency. “And that inspiration, that time of technological challenge, there was the first flight of Concorde, there was so much going on, it really excited me personally."

Apollo-era control room restored

To celebrate the anniversary, NASA has restored the old control room from which the Apollo-era flight directors oversaw the mission. It's a place of pilgrimage for their successors:

"When I was selected as a flight director, that's where I went,” says Holly Ridings, Chief Flight Director at Nasa. “So this was years ago, when I first became a flight director and not the Chief. I drove up to the Johnson Space Centre and just sat in the room and thought about the enormous responsibility of carrying on the legacy that they started."

“We stand in their shade”

Apollo also continues to inspire the younger generation who worked on current NASA missions to Mars:

"To me my favourite part of the Apollo 11 mission is the goodwill disk that they brought with them, that has messages from about 70 different countries that they sent to the Moon,” says Tanya Harrison, Planetary Scientist at Planet Labs. “This could have been an entirely American, patriotic event - you know, 'we're better than Russia kind of thing' - Instead they took the opportunity to bring all these messages of peace with them to the Moon."

For the astronauts of today who launch to the ISS, Apollo 11 remains on a pedestal.

"I don't know if we are really following in the footsteps of the first explorers,” says Luca Parmitano, astronaut at the European Space Agency. “What they did was incredibly unique and incredibly brave. Maybe we stand in their shade. But what we can hope is that we can honour their courage and contribute to space exploration."

50 years later, the archive film is blurry, the historical achievements are sharply in focus.