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October 22, 1969: On this day, the Apollo 11 astronauts visited the DRC

Updated: Dec 20, 2023


President Mobutu with the Apollo 11 astronauts in Kinshasa, 1969.

The Apollo 11 astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins) and President Mobutu stand at attention as the national anthems are played at the presidential palace of Mont-Ngaliema. (October 22, 1969) | Credit: NASA History

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On October 22, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts made their first visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This historic occasion was marked by a warm reception from then President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu.


Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, the three American astronauts, had already etched their names in the annals of planetary history when they set foot on the moon's surface in July 1969. The Apollo 11 mission, organized by NASA, the U.S. space agency, captivated the world.


Just two months after their remarkable lunar feat, the trio embarked on a terrestrial journey known as the "Giant Step Apollo 11 Presidential Goodwill Tour." As part of this tour, they visited the DRC and stepped onto Congolese soil for the first time, greeted by President Joseph Mobutu.


The event was eagerly anticipated by the residents of Kinshasa, and the streets were filled with locals eager to warmly welcome these stars. After having followed their epic journey from Cape Kennedy to Neil Armstrong's historic moonwalk, the people of Kinshasa wanted to be a part of this memorable occasion. "I remember that day well. It was our dad who took me and my older brother to Place Bongolo in the Kimbangu district of Kalamu to see the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Alden Armstrong." recounts Jérôme Kayembe, a resident of Kinshasa.

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The Apollo 11 astronauts on their way to the presidential palace of Mont-Ngaliema, after their arrival in Kinshasa. (October 22, 1969) | Credit: Dana Venable

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The visit culminated with a grand celebration at Mont Stanley (Mont Ngaliema), where renowned musical artists such as Tabu Ley, Grand Kallé, and Franco Luambo took the stage, delighting the audience with their hit songs.


A significant moment marked the conclusion of the astronauts' visit to the Congo. President Mobutu bestowed honorary distinctions in the National Order of the Leopard upon the astronauts and their wives, recognizing their achievements. In return, the astronauts presented General Mobutu with a lunar pebble collected during their journey to the moon, symbolizing their imprint on the DRC.

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President Mobutu welcomes the astronauts and their wives at the presidential palace of Mont-Ngaliema. (October 22, 1969) | Credit: NASA History

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The visit of the Apollo 11 astronauts to Kinshasa remains a significant milestone in the history of the DRC. It brought together the triumph of human space exploration and the enthusiasm of the Congolese people, uniting them in a shared moment of awe and celebration.

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Henock Kalala - (LEBEAUZAÏRE)

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LEBEAUZAÏRE (YouTube)

Footage from the visit of the Apollo 11 astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins) to Kinshasa. | Credit: NASA

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