Apollo 11 left for the Moon at 9:32 Eastern Daylight Time on the morning of the sixteenth. As the throng at the Cape cheered or watched in quiet awe, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins rose slowly past the top of 39A's tower while the Saturn began its programmed turn. Amber lights blinked on the instrument panel. Aldrin felt as if he was on top of a long swaying pole. The F-1s, spewing fire and smoke and sending tremors through earth and water, sounded to him like a freight train rumbling far away in the night. But it was different outside. There was only one man-made noise that was louder than the Saturn 5's first stage: a nuclear explosion. Twelve seconds after liftoff, control of Apollo 11 passed from Canaveral to Houston. "You are go for staging," Houston told the men in the command module, which they had named Columbia. The lunar module was called Eagle. "Staging and ignition," Armstrong answered. Two minutes and forty-two seconds after it lifted the two upper stages and the Apollo stack off the pad, the first stage separated and fell forty-five miles into the Atlantic.
The distance between Earth and the Moon was bridged in four days, as had been done by Verne's large cannon shell. On July 20, after a number of orbits around the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin, now inside Eagle, left Collins still in orbit and began their descent to the lunar surface. Seeing that they were headed toward a forty-foot-wide crater surrounded by boulders, Armstrong overrode the computer and steered the lunar module to a clear spot a few miles away. Tingling with excitement, and after a series of alarm warnings from an overworked computer that would have caused an abort had they not been ignored by a NASA controller who suspected they were insignificant, the astronauts kicked up Moon dust as they slowly settled on the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong came in so slowly that Eagle's descent engine had just six seconds of propellant left when it came to rest at 4:17 EDT that afternoon. It was 102 hours and 45 minutes since they had left Earth. Armstrong called home:
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
"Roger, Tranquility," answered a relieved Charles Duke, the capsule communicator in Houston. "We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We are breathing again. Thanks a lot."
The sudden stillness felt strange to Aldrin. Spaceflight--flying--had always involved movement. But now, suddenly, he and Armstrong were absolutely still on a ghostly world. It was, Buzz Aldrin thought, as if Eagle had been sitting there since time began. He reached over and gave Armstrong a hard handshake as the Sun rose behind them like a huge spotlight. Pulling out a small silver chalice and a vial of wine, Aldrin asked "every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way."
Six and a half hours later Neil Armstrong backed slowly out of the LM's hatch and, with Aldrin guiding him, carefully worked his way down a ladder attached to the spacecraft's forward landing leg.
"I'm at the foot of the ladder," Armstrong told Houston. "The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches. I'm going to step off the LM now."
With Aldrin watching through one of Eagle's windows and a television camera attached to another of the lander's legs recording the scene for instant transmission home, Neil Armstrong's blue lunar overshoe touched the Moon's gray powder.
"That's one small step for . . . man," Neil Armstrong told the world, "one giant leap for mankind."
What he said to Aldrin, however, was a little less weighty: "Isn't it fun?"
"I was grinning ear to ear, even though the gold visor hid my face," Buzz Aldrin would later recall. "Neil and I were standing together on the Moon
Excerpted from This New Ocean by William E. Burrows. . Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.