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Where were you when man walked on the Moon? Scientists and stargazers share their memories 

On 20th July 1969, an estimated 530 million people watched the Moon landing live on television. To mark its 50th anniversary, the Telegraph asks: where were you the moment Apollo 11 touched down?

Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut

I was six years old in July 1969. Apollo 11’s moon landing happened late in the evening and by the time Neil and Buzz were out making footprints in the dust, it was the early hours of the next morning. I was too young to stay awake. Later that day, my father wanted me to understand the significance of what was happening in space. He took me down our garden, pointed up to the moon and explained that people were actually walking on the lunar surface right then. I could remember my sister learning to walk and I did not understand why walking was such a big deal for grown-ups. I had no comprehension of how far away the moon is and the effort required to reach it.

Later, as I learned about science and spaceflight, I realised how big a deal the moon landings were: technically, skillfully and operationally. It was a gradual surprise that something so much part of life could be so amazing. However, discussions with people around the world since my spaceflight have made me realise that Apollo 11’s really big deal is the impact on humankind generally: the huge feat of exploration and teamwork has transformed our thinking about how much people can achieve by working collaboratively with a common goal.

Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist and the presenter of Radio 4’s The Life Scientific

When Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon, I was six years old, and we were living in Iraq, in the northern city of Mosul, where my father was based as an officer in the Iraqi Air Force. My mother would have had the BBC World Service on the radio – it was always on – and so our family would have followed the news of the Apollo Mission. We didn’t own a television set back then and I used to pop round to the neighbours' house to watch cartoons.

During the summer months, we would take our beds up to the roof because it was too warm indoors, and I do have a vague bedtime memory of my father telling me and my younger brother to look up, through our mosquito nets at the moon because some men had gone there in a rocket. I remember straining my eyes to try to envisage them. It was a long time ago and I have no idea exactly when: but I like to think it was the evening of July 20, 1969.

Pat Collins (left) huddles around the television with her family on July 20th, 1969. Her husband, astronaut Michael Collins, was on the Apollo 11 mission, and was the only person on board who was not able to walk on the Moon's surface Credit:  Bob Peterson/The LIFE Images Collection

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal 

I never look at the moon without being reminded of the day when I watched the grainy TV images of Neil Armstrong’s ‘One small step’. I was then a young astronomer in Cambridge and enthralled. But these pioneering exploits seem even more heroic in retrospect, when we realise how they depended on primitive computing and untested equipment. NASA’s entire suite of computers was less powerful than a single smartphone today. 

Had NASA maintained its momentum (and its budget) there would surely be footprints on Mars by now; that’s what our generation expected. But the Apollo programme was a ‘space race’ fuelled by superpower rivalry.  Half a century later, the moon landings remain the high point of human ventures into space – and it’s becoming a distant memory. It may be many years before humans walk again on the moon. But it will surely be sad when no-one living can share this experience with the rest of us.

Peter Snow, television broadcaster

I was stuck in the ITN News office on 20th July 1969, where I worked as the defence and diplomatic correspondent. Attempting to busy myself with other stories, I was hopelessly distracted by the small television in the corner of the room relaying scenes from a quarter of a million miles away, as the Apollo 11 spacecraft hurtled towards the moon. Mesmerised, I watched every moment: the panic as the fuel almost ran out and the spacecraft touched down with moments to spare; the sound of the alarms; the voice from Houston announcing “the Eagle has landed”.

It was utterly stunning. Even 50 years later, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to present the news that evening. I was most moved by the iconic image of the Earth from the surface of the moon. There it was, this tiny blue thing, our home. Fifty years on, I doubt that any news event in my life has matched the awe-inducing wonder of that summer’s day.

An American family watches as Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, steps foot on the moon, a feat he described as a "giant leap for mankind". An estimated 530 million watched the Moon landing live on television Credit:  AFP

Heston Blumenthal, celebrity chef who cooked space food for Tim Peake aboard the International Space Station

I have only two clear memories from my very early childhood. The first will be familiar to anybody who grew up in the Sixties watching too much television: the TV ‘test card’ of a girl standing next to a blackboard which was used to fill time between programmes. The other, of course, was the moon landing. Just how, I often wonder, can I remember it so clearly when I was only three years old? But the image of Neil Armstrong stepping out on to the moon’s beautiful, mysterious surface seems fixed firmly into my mind. 

In those days, every child wanted to be an astronaut, and a book I kept from the time suggests I was no different. It was a ‘Fill It Yourself’ Dr Zeus book and in my copy, I wrote a story about a spaceship that can travel anywhere in the universe. If you had told that child that, almost five decades later, he would be designing food to be eaten in space, he certainly would not have believed you. 

Joan Aldrin (in the polka-dot white shirt) watches the Apollo 11 mission with her family on 20th July 1969. Her husband, Buzz, was the second man to walk on the moon Credit: Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection

Kathy Sullivan, first US woman to walk in space 

I was planted firmly on the floor of the den in our southern California home, my face barely a foot away from our small black-and-white television screen, hoping to witness the greatest drama of my young life. Three men were farther away from earth than any human beings had ever been before and two of them were about to attempt a landing on the surface of the moon. 

All I saw on the television screen in front of me was the scene inside mission control in Houston. It was the words that mattered, and I wanted to hear every single one.  I listened raptly to the crisp and cryptic exchanges between mission control and the crew as they fired the lunar module’s engines to begin descending. I vividly remember listening to Aldrin calling out their altitude and velocity as Armstrong flew the approach.  The adventure I witnessed aged 17 that Sunday morning made me long to have such grand and adventurous expeditions in my life. Little did I dream, then, that my path would begin to bend towards outer space. 

From left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. The trio were asked to spend 21 days in quarantine after landing back on Earth, in case they were infected with unknown illnesses Credit: NASA / REUTERS

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, British space scientist and presenter of The Sky at Night

I am in love with the moon. It started when I was very young. I was taking my first small steps, as Neil was taking his giant leap. The effects on my life were profound. That epic moment set my life on a path. At just three years old, I wanted to get out there, visit the moon (and the visit the Clangers). As a teenager, I made my own telescope to get closer to the moon. It gave me unprecedented access to my heart’s desire and with something that I had made myself. The moon continues to guide me now; my telescope making led to a career making more sophisticated instrumentation. The culmination of this is the work I did on the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope ever built.

Do you remember the Moon landing? Share your memories in the comments below