MOSCOW, July 20 (RIA Novosti) - Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov praised on Monday the U.S.-U.S.S.R. race to the Moon in the 1960s as the "best competition ever in space."
The United States celebrates on Monday the 40th anniversary of the historic first moon walk.
"In my opinion it was the best competition in space ever held in the history of humanity. The moon race between the Soviet Union and the United States is the highest achievement of science and technology," said Leonov, who in 1965 became the first human to conduct a space walk.
Members of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped down from the lunar lander onto the Moon's Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969.
The mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s.
"It was a very smart step taken by a great politician - he united the whole American nation in the accomplishment of this task," Leonov said.
Russia had its own moon program at the time, which had been underway for over two years by 1969.
"But the Americans had to win the moon race following the success of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth," Leonov said.
An estimated 500 million people on Earth watched on TV the first landing of U.S. astronauts on the Moon. However, governments in the Soviet Union and China banned the transmission from space for ideological reasons.
"The reports on U.S. missions to the Moon were televised around the world, and only two countries, the USSR and China, refused to show these historic images to their people," the veteran cosmonaut said.
"I always believed it was a big mistake, we simply robbed our own people, because the flight to the Moon was the achievement and the heritage of the whole of humanity," Leonov said.