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A seminal sound bite, 50 years on

Jul 16, 2019

There are few moments in history so ingrained in our memory that people can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. But one such event occurred 50 years ago today, on July 16th, 1969, when Apollo 11 first launched for the Moon – and Neil Armstrong went on to utter some of the most significant words in history.
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Four days later, Neil Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin made cosmic history by becoming the first humans to walk on the Moon. It was a huge achievement not only for NASA, but for the entire human race – who’d only just begun venturing into space less than a decade earlier. So at 10.56pm, with a 600-million-strong global audience looking and listening on, Armstrong stepped onto the finely powdered lunar surface. But it’s not the grainy images that people recall… or the video clips that’ve since formed the basis of lessons in schools… it’s the astronaut’s words that’ve stood the test of time. Almost poetic in style, Armstrong’s statement briefly united the people of earth – and provided a sense of hope for what was to come in the 20th century. It’s become one of the most important sound bites in history, and perfectly sums up the significance of what occurred in one short, but incredibly powerful, audio clip. 

This week, millions around the world will host special events and celebrations to commemorate the 1969 Moon landing – allowing enthusiasts of all ages to come together and honour the past, present and future of space exploration. But for NASA, the build up to this anniversary has been years in the making – and the institution has put sound at the centre of several of its campaigns.

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NASA Explorers: Apollo is an audio series that tells stories of the Moon and those who explore it – from the scientists who study space, to the people all over the world whose lives have been shaped by the epic adventures of the Apollo program. The series features heavily on NASA’s dedicated SoundCloud account, alongside fascinating clips like the roar of a space shuttle launch and the eerie sounds of a galaxy far, far away. The project was designed to establish an oral history of exploration, and the space agency is asking people everywhere to get involved by sharing their own Apollo stories. Users can record audio of themselves or a loved one who remembers the Apollo era, and NASA will select some submissions to feature in the series. People have responded to the project with enthusiasm – telling tales of gathering around the radio with their family, feeling inspired to become an astrophysicist themselves, and being completely mesmerized by what they saw. 

The moving audio submissions may come from people from all walks of life, all over the world, but one thing absolutely unites them all – the acknowledgement that they’d witnessed a moment unlike any other. And just as Armstrong’s sound bite has become a key part of our world’s oral history, these clips also contribute to establishing a sense of the mood of the time – one of optimism, excitement, and pride.

With plans in place to send people to the moon again by 2024, the future of space travel appears to be bright. But it seems unlikely that any moment can match up to the one people witnessed on this very day, 50 years ago.