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Remembering The Moon Landing, 40 Years Later

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, in a photograph taken by Neil Armstrong.
(RFE/RL) -- Forty years ago, on July 20, 1969, millions of people sat riveted to their television screens to watch the first humans land on the moon.

The ghostly, black-and-white footage showed U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping off the "Eagle" landing module onto the moon's surface, followed by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Armstrong's first words have become as historic as those images of his first steps:

He described the moon's surface as fine-grained, "almost like powder." The lunar landscape, he said, was beautiful.

"It has a stark beauty all its own. It's like much of the high desert of the United States," he said. "It's different, but it's very pretty out here."

The two astronauts took photographs and collected rock samples. They left behind a U.S. flag, scientific instruments, and a commemorative plaque reading: "We came in peace for all mankind."

Ahead of the 40th anniversary, NASA has released restored video footage from the Apollo 11 moon landing. Here's a sampling:

First Steps On The Moon
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Armstrong and Aldrin stayed a total of 21 hours on the moon, 2 1/2 of them outside the "Eagle" lander.

After spending the night on the moon, they lifted off to rejoin their fellow crew member Michael Collins in the orbiting "Columbia" command and service modules, which safely brought them back to Earth on July 24.

Armstrong and Aldrin were the first of 12 astronauts, all U.S. citizens, to walk on the moon. The last, Eugene Cerman, left the moon in December 1972 as part of the Apollo 17 mission.

The historic 1969 landing was a huge victory for the United States, which had been engaged in a fierce space race with the Soviet Union. Moscow had already launched the first satellite into orbit and put the first man, Yury Gagarin, in space.

The plaque left behind on the moon by Apollo 11.
The Apollo 11 flight, however, was far from smooth. The "Eagle" lander drifted from its trajectory, burned almost all of its fuel, and experienced a computer glitch -- causing the mission control team back on Earth to famously "turn blue" with worry.

Then U.S. President Richard Nixon, visibly aware of the risks, had prepared a speech in case Armstrong and his colleagues failed to return to Earth.

The Apollo space program had already endured the death of three astronauts in 1967, when the Apollo 1 spacecraft caught fire during a countdown test at the launch pad.

The U.S. space agency NASA has planned a series of events to mark the anniversary of the 1969 moon landing, which it hopes will bolster flagging support for its troubled space program.

The cash-strapped NASA is seeking to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.

But the notoriously media-shy Armstrong has said he will stay away from the anniversary festivities. His colleague Aldrin is planning to attend the NASA events, however.

The anniversary comes as NASA this week unveiled previews of restored footage of the 1969 moon walk. After a three-year search, an embarrassed NASA admitted it had lost, and probably erased, the original videotapes.

The restored copies, made by a Hollywood company, are sharper than the original broadcast. The full set of restored video is due to be released in September.