Ten US astronauts followed Armstrong and Aldrin onto the surface of the Moon but nobody has been there since 1972 and the pace of space exploration has slackened off in the last five decades, with unmanned space probes being the order of the day.
NASA was only formed in 1958 and yet it put two men on the Moon just 11 years later.
Dr Ken Kremer, a research scientist and science journalist, said: "It’s extraordinary when you think about it today and even back then that NASA was able to carry out the commitment to land on the moon by 1969. At that time in the late 50s we didn't even know if people could survive or function in space.”
A total of 47.7 lbs (21.8 kgs) of Moon rocks and sand were returned to Earth by #Apollo11. The samples are stored at @NASA_Johnson, but did you know you may be able to find a Moon rock near you? Explore: https://t.co/RGIX5YzPZd pic.twitter.com/b5D7Cfd0PR— NASA (@NASA) 19 July 2019
He said: “(President) Kennedy was very committed and focused on accomplishing an objective that has become man’s greatest technological achievement and spun off many benefits to humanity. And Johnson too. Congress was another matter. But the funding was there until the mid ‘60s. Nixon came in and then the funding was slashed by the late ‘60s and Apollo was ended sadly.”
So how close did the Soviets come to beating the US to the Moon?
Dr Kremer said: “At first the Soviets were very committed. But it was expensive and they encountered failures with the N1 rocket that ended their Moon programme. But that was unknown by the US at the time. so it was a real race to the Moon until almost the very end by which time the Soviets began focusing more on an unmanned robotic retrieval of lunar soil and rock samples.”
#SoyuzMS13: In accordance with the pre-launch processing plan today the crews of the upcoming expedition to the ISS conducted the second “fit check” – a check inspection of the launch-ready spacecraft — https://t.co/2iXgLqGuF4— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) 16 July 2019
🚀 The launch is scheduled for July 20 at 16:28 UTC pic.twitter.com/vLjreGGCqc
Funding for the space race diminished notably in the 1970s as the Middle East oil crisis affected the US economy and in the 1980s NASA concentrated almost exclusively on the Space Shuttle programme, which was blighted when the Challenger blew up in 1986, killing its crew of seven.
During the 1990s there was massive co-operation between NASA and Roscosmos which led to the completion of the International Space Station, which has been continuously occupied since 2000.
Thousands of scientific experiments have been carried out on the ISS in the last 19 years but it does not possess the same cachet as the lunar landings.
Neil Armstrong after the first walk on the moon, 1969 🌑 pic.twitter.com/xtMCcBqljK— MARY ANN (@mryplpn) 15 July 2019
Dr Kremer said: “Sadly after the first lunar landing the US government failed to continue supporting NASA with the funds to continue Apollo and then focus on Mars. The costs and division from the Vietnam War had a lot to do with it. The politicians then and now are very shortsighted. They fail to realise that we can only move forward and grow our economy by investing in science and innovation to make new scientific and technological breakthroughs.”
He said the ISS had been “a wonderful instrument for world peace and co-operation with a sustained commitment of resources.”
One giant step for a woman . . . #UnlikelyFirstWordsOnTheMoon— Cheveux Blancs (@8873422) 19 July 2019
In 2017 President Donald Trump signed a space policy directive which said US astronauts would return to the Moon and visit “other destinations” by 2028.
When it became clear China may put its own man on the Moon before then, the date was brought forward to 2024, a date which would coincide with the last year of Trump’s second term in office.
Exactly 50 years ago today, we were on our way to the Moon! It was an honor to work with this crew and a privilege to complete the mission of a lifetime. #ApolloXI https://t.co/uaiXkzPNOu pic.twitter.com/14gwL8YFcu— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) 18 July 2019
On Wednesday, 17 July, four Russian cosmonauts and two American astronauts left the SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) pod at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow after a four-month isolation experiment simulating conditions on the Moon.
Roscosmos Deputy Head Sergei Savelyev said of SIRIUS: "This experiment is to serve as a pillar in organising long-term flights. The current experiment will help us prepare future missions to the Moon in a planned manner and minimise risks.”
In February this year Trump also signed a directive creating the US Space Force, which would operate as the sixth branch of the armed forces under the wing of the air force.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, said in May: “We know space is a warfighting domain, so we are setting up the US Space Force with the Air Force. Our strategy will set the Space Force up for success now and in the future by minimising bureaucracy.”
While the creation of the Space Force is seen by many as an aggressive move, there continues to be co-operation between nations over space exploration.
Meanwhile Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation is planning to send its first tourists into space but they will do no more than orbit the planet Earth.
Musk said this week the first lunar landing was "probably the most inspiring thing in history" and added: "It certainly inspired me. I'm not sure that SpaceX would exist if not for Apollo 11."
He also said he believed he would be able to put a man on Mars within four years.
Mars would definitely be the next stop for mankind but why does the era of Star Trek-style space travel remain so elusive?
Dr Kremer explains: “That’s centuries away and faster than light travel would not be possible with current science - but it’s very inspirational and we should try.”