(NBC News) On July 16, 1969, the fires of celestial science lifted three men from the surface of the Earth and toward the greatest exploration in human history.
But as the name of the mission indicates, it took many steps to get Apollo 11 off the ground.
Apollo 1 was scheduled to launch early in 1967, but a pre-flight fire swept through the capsule, killing all three astronauts on board.
NASA continued on, testing different phases of the ultimate goal, and in 1968, Apollo 8 took a three man crew around the moon without landing.
Finally, 50 years ago today, Michael Collins found himself sitting on top of one million gallons of rocket fuel next to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
"I get nervous easily, and that seemed like a suitable occasion to be nervous," Collins laughs now.
As the countdown hit zero, the 300-foot rocket began to move. Apollo 11 cleared the tower, then cleared the boundaries of Earth, giving mankind a new perspective on its home planet.
"That little orb out your window really grabs your attention. it's center stage, it's the whole show," Collins recalls.
Another show would come five days later when the crew made man's first mark on the moon.
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