It is considered to be human kind's greatest achievement. On July 21 1969, 42 years ago to this very day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin created history by successfully completing the first ever (and to date only) manned moon landing. They also immortalised the quote, "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind". (There was some confusion on whether Armstrong said "man" or "a man" though)
Listen to the audio:
Watch the footage:
The landing was also a major triumph for the US in the space race with Russia during the height of the Cold war. This amazing photo gallery from Wired that looks at the "Incredible things NASA did to train Apollo astronauts", notes how Apollo astronauts practiced every second of their mission, even planting the flag (above), many times, indoors, outdoors, in space suits, underwater, in planes, in centrifuges, in pools, in the ocean and anywhere else NASA saw fit. (and it has some great photographs too)It didn't take long however, for detractors and conspiracy theorists to begin making claims that the moon landing never took place. The first of these was Bill Kaysing who wrote a book titled, 'We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle'. Another was film maker Bart Sibrel who made a movie called 'A funny thing happened on the way to the moon'(Fun fact: Buzz Aldrin punched Sibrel in the face after Sibrel called him 'a coward, and a liar, and a thief').
A lot of detailed and elaborate email forwards have also been in circulation for the last few years, pointing to various factors such as the fact that cross hairs can be seen in some of the photographs, that the photographs were too HD given the period in which they were taken, and that the US flag is fluttering in photographs despite the fact that there is no wind on the moon. This article on Wikipedia gives a good summary of the hoax claims.
Vince Calder and Andrew Johnson, scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, gave detailed answers to the conspiracists' claims on the laboratory's website. They said that NASA's portrayal of the Moon landing is fundamentally accurate. And according to James Longuski (Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering at Purdue University), the conspiracy theories are impossible because of their size and complexity. This article by James Barbree also gives a number of reasons on as to why the moon landings were not faked. He also addresses some of the most popular conspiracy theories and ruefully notes that, "Humans would rather think the worst of themselves than the best".
So is it humanity's greatest moment, or humanity's greatest hoax? Whichever it is, happy 42nd birthday!