By Meg Thackray-Howard
July 2019 marks 50 years since one of history’s most astounding moments, something the public watching at the time will never forget. It was among humanity’s greatest scientific achievements, not only at the time but to this day. On 20 July 1960, the Apollo 11 spaceflight landed humans on the moon for the very first time and Neil Armstrong’s famous words “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” were broadcast live to a worldwide audience.
The 50th anniversary of this incredible event has inspired me to look at what other important events in our history occurred 50 years ago, how they affect us today, how far we have come since and what we are going to do next.
First moon landing – 20 July 1969
On this day, the highly anticipated Apollo program was a success, landing humans on the moon for the first time in history. This effectively ended the Space Race, a competition between two Cold War rivals the USSR and the US. It also fulfilled a national goal proposed by President John F Kennedy in 1961.
The following day, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto lunar surface on 21 July, and Buzz Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later. They spent 2 and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft and collected lunar material to bring back to Earth. After eight days in space they returned to Earth, splash landing in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July.
Today, the only place astronauts can fly to is the International Space Station which is 250 miles above Earth, barely one-thousandth of the distance to the moon. Twelve people, all American and all men, have stepped on the moon since the first moon landing, and none since 1972.
NASA is currently developing the most advanced rocket and spacecraft to lead the next steps of human exploration farther into space than we have ever travelled before. The Parker Solar Probe will “touch the sun”, travelling closer to the surface than any spacecraft before and a mission to Jupiter’s ocean-bearing moon Europa is being planned for launch in the 2020s. The Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of past microbial life and gather samples from the Red Planet.
Humans are already living and working on the International Space Station in a one-of-a-kind research laboratory in microgravity. By studying astronauts living in space, NASA is learning how future crews can thrive on longer missions farther into the solar system. NASA is committed to using this unique resource for a wide range of scientific research.
Stonewall riots – 28 June – 3 July 1969
Possibly the most important event in LGBT history, the Stonewall riots started the gay liberation movement and changed the lives of the community forever.
The 1960s was a very contentious period, with many social and political movements active, including the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement.
The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against police during a raid in the early hours at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village of Manhattan, New York City. The Stonewall Inn was popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community such as drag queens and transgender people.
Police raids on gay bars were routine at the time but officers very quickly lost control of the situation. Tensions between police and gay residents erupted into more protests the next evening and later in the week. Within weeks, Village residents had organised into activist groups to concentrate on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexuality without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, gay activist organisations were formed in New York and, within the next few years, across the US and the rest of the world.
On 28 June 1970 the first gay pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today LGBT Pride events are held annually across the world.
A 50th anniversary event took place, with city officials estimating 5 million attendees in Manhattan. It was the largest LGBTQ event in history.
When looking back at this event, it is clear how far society has come since. The Stonewall riots transformed the lives of the LGBT community and are a very valuable part of their history. Because of the gay liberation movement, in many countries LGBT people no longer have to hide or live in fear. They can feel safe to be who they are and celebrate that, and Pride events all over the world allow them to do just that.
We now have LGBT characters in popular mainstream TV, such as Sophia Burset in ‘Orange is the New Black’ and Captain Raymond Holt in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, and on the big screen with films like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ focussing on a gay relationship. Artists are also able to be much more open about their sexuality, with singers such as Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander of ‘Years and Years’ speaking and singing openly about their love lives.
The Beatles last public performance – 30 January 1969
50 years ago this January, the iconic band performed their infamous rooftop concert at the Apple Corps headquarters building in London, marking the end of a hugely successful and world famous career.
The surprise performance lasted 42 minutes before police asked them to reduce volume. Footage was captured for what would become the 1970 documentary film ‘Let it Be’.
Crowds of onlookers congregated in the streets and on the roofs of local buildings, not realising they were witnessing the ‘Fab Four’s’ final performance.
Realising the concert would eventually be shut down, they finished with their song ‘Get Back’, with McCartney improvising the lyrics to reflect the situation. As the concert came to an end, Lennon said “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
Their rooftop concert marks the end of an era for fans. Although their final two albums ‘Abbey Road’ and ‘Let it Be’ were released after the event, by September they had officially disbanded.
The concert has been referenced in the media even years later, including being featured in an episode of The Simpsons, guest-starring George Harrison.
The Beatles changed pop culture forever, setting trends that are still being followed today and altering the way music is made to this day. Fanbases today are extensive and impressive such as Justin Bieber’s ‘Beliebers’, but ‘Beatlemania’ completely took the world by storm, predating the phenomenon of social media that allows artists to communicate with and reach fans all over the world much more easily.
Woodstock festival – 15-18 August 1969
Woodstock was a music and arts festival held in August of 1969 that attracted an audience of over 400,000 people. Held near White Lake in Bethel, New York it was billed as ‘3 Days of Peace & Music’ with 32 musical acts performing outdoors.
It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history. Rolling Stone listed it as number 19 of the 50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock and Roll.
To mark the 50th anniversary and commemorate the event, Woodstock 50 is a music festival scheduled to be held on 16-18 August in Bethel, New York.
Some of the artists announced for the lineup include Jay-Z, The Killers, Imagine Dragons and Miley Cyrus as well as several acts that performed at the original festival such as Dead & Company and Santana.
The location of Woodstock 50 is still undetermined and tickets are not yet available.
On the official Woodstock 50 website, fans are showing support of the anniversary festival, despite rumours that it may be cancelled and not go ahead: “Woodstock will always be important to me and I am 21 years old”, “Sure hope it can go on and be the greatest, safest, peaceful and most moving event of all time” and “I am a modern day hippie and Woodstock has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.”
First African-American superhero introduced to Marvel Comics – 30 September 1969
Although not a very well-known anniversary, September 2019 will mark 50 years since the first African-American superhero was introduced in mainstream comic books in the US.
The character of the Falcon, or Samuel Wilson, was introduced by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan to the popular comic Captain America.
He was the first black superhero not to have the word ‘black’ or similar as part of their name. He was also the first superhero of colour to get his own action figure in the 1970s.
He is portrayed by Anthony Mackie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has appeared in six films. He will also star in upcoming Disney+ series Falcon and Winter Soldier. Disney’s new streaming service plans to give ‘second tier’ characters the spotlight.
The first ever black superhero in American comic books was Marvel’s Black Panther, an African who first appeared in Fantastic Four in 1966. The character now has his own film, released in 2018, which received high praise from critics and fans, with many considering it to be one of the best films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, noting its cultural significance.
Both Black Panther and Falcon have overcome the very common trope of superheroes of colour being seen as just sidekick characters. Fans of comic books and Marvel were very happy to see more diversity in the cinematic universe and a wider range of characters with more accurate representation.
It is inspiring to see how far we have come in the last 50 years and to look back on some great achievements in our history. We still have a long way to go in many ways, but our society is constantly growing, changing and developing. These important events from all those years ago still impact us today, so now we can look forward and only imagine where we will be 50 years from now and what our actions today will do to shape our future.