“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." This is how Neil Armstrong conveyed the news back to earth, half a century ago. The moon had been reached. The “base" was the spot where the mission’s four-legged module Eagle planted itself. Armstrong, the first man on the moon, passed away in 2012, so it’s for crewmate Buzz Aldrin, the second man up there, to tell the tale of Apollo 11’s trip. It blasted off on 16 July 1969 and landed on 20 July. Tomorrow is its 50th anniversary.

Aldrin recalls that Armstrong manually manoeuvred the craft to a safe landing, ignoring computer guidance that was directing it to a dangerous field of boulders. Back on earth, it wasn’t clear if the astronauts would make it back. They did, of course, splash-landing on 24 July in the Pacific Ocean. What began as a space race between the US and the then Soviet Union was to spawn dramatic technological advancements. That era has ended, but the exploratory zest persists. Outer space is now an exciting frontier for private businesses in the West. Will India take the same trajectory? Possibly. Isro’s domestic monopoly on such voyages need not last forever.

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