It has been over 50 years since Apollo 11 landed men on the Moon for the first time in a mission that defined an era. The landings ushered in a unprecedented period of technological advancement and succeeded in cementing the technological prowess of the USA.
An event with monumental international significance, Neil Armstrong’s first tentative steps on the Moon on 20 July 1969 would go on to inspire generations, his observation at the time still ringing true.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
It was one of the most remarkable achievements in history. Just 66 years after humans first lifted off the surface of the Earth in an aeroplane, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. This is the story of Project Apollo, and how humans got to the Moon.Watch Now
1. It took the men over 4 days to reach the Moon
The Apollo 11 Saturn V lifted off from the Kennedy Space centre at 09:36 on 16 July 1969 carrying three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. The journey to the Moon would last 4 days, 6 hours and 45 minutes, finally landing on 20 July 1969.
The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.
2. The astronauts encountered some problems before landing
The journey to the Moon was not all plain sailing though. Before landing, a series of alarm messages sounded that none of the astronauts had previously heard.
The alarms were caused by ‘executive overflows’ as a result of the guidance computer not being able to complete all of its tasks and having to postpone some of them. After checking the alarm, computer technicians on the ground reassured the crew that is was safe to land.
However, that was not to be the last of the problems the crew would face. Radio communication loss between the lunar module and mission control meant the mission was close to being aborted. Despite Aldrin adjusting the antenna and ground control attempting to resolve the issue, radio communications continued to fade in and out.
Eagle (lunar module) in lunar orbit, photographed from Columbia (command module).
3. The astronauts did not land at their planned site
No sooner than one problem was resolved, another reared its head. Due to the gravity of the Moon and some extra speed gained, Armstrong and Aldrin had missed the landing site by about 4 miles and were instead faced an unfriendly sight of rough terrain and lorry-sized craters. Armstrong had to find a smooth spot to land, and fast…
A photograph of Armstrong taken by Aldrin. This is one of the few photographs of Armstrong on the lunar surface; most of the time he had the camera.
4. Armstrong had 60 seconds to land the lunar module
Dwindling fuel supplies (just 5% fuel remaining) meant that Armstrong would have a mere 60 seconds to land the lunar module before having to abort the mission, a hard task made worse by the unplanned detour. Armstrong later recalled:
“We heard the call of 60 seconds, and a low-level light came on. That, I’m sure, caused concern in the control centre…They probably normally expected us to land with about two minutes of fuel left. And here we were, still a hundred feet [30 m] above the surface, at 60 seconds.”
Luckily, Armstrong was able to land with only seconds left to spare.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the Moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera.
5. Buzz Aldrin took communion on the Moon
Upon landing on the Moon, Aldrin gave thanks for his safety by taking communion. At the time NASA was embroiled in a lawsuit with prominent activist and atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair objected to the broadcasting of a reading from the Book of Genesis by the Apollo 8 crew. Because of this Aldrin took communion privately, away from the cameras. His communion kit was prepared by the Pastor of his Presbyterian church, who still have the chalice used on the Moon.
Aldrin salutes the United States flag on the lunar surface.
6. The module remained on the Moon’s surface for 21 hours and 36 minutes
Armstrong was the first man to step onto the Moon, followed 20 minutes later by Aldrin. Of the 21 hours and 36 minutes spent on the Moons surface, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours outside the module collecting data, setting up experiments and taking pictures.
They also erected an American flag, a task that proved more difficult than expected as they struggled to jam the pole into the Moons hard surface. Although they managed to plant the pole about 18cm deep, Aldrin stated that the flag was later knocked over by engine exhaust as Apollo 11 lifted off.
Images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2012 showed that at least 5 of the 6 American Flags raised during Apollo missions were still standing. However, scientists think decades’ worth of sunlight have bleached away their colors.
Whilst his co-pilots explored the Moon, Michael Collins was alone in orbit for more than 21 hours, piloting the command module. For 48 minutes of each orbit of the moon, he was out of radio contact with Earth.
Aldrin next to the Passive Seismic Experiment Package with the Eagle in the background.
7. The astronauts splashed down to Earth
On 24 July 1969, the Saturn V splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 44 hours after leaving lunar orbit.
The craft and its crew were recovered by air craft carrier USS Hornet. Divers then attached an anchor to the craft and passed biological isolation suits to the astronauts before assisting them into a life craft.
Due to the risk of pathological contamination, precautions were taken at every stage of the recovery and the astronauts were kept quarantined for 21 days. This practice continued for two more missions before being deemed unnecessary.
The crew of Apollo 11 in quarantine after returning to Earth, visited by Richard Nixon.
8. An estimated 650 million people tuned in to watch the event on television world wide
An estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong and Aldrin become the first men on the Moon, bearing witness to a historic event that will be remembered for years to come.
From the lunar module on the Moon, Aldrin reflected on the enormity of the occasion:
“This is the [lunar module] pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”
In a tumultuous America, torn by racial division, having witnessed the assassination of their president and weary from years of Cold War tension, the Moon landing helped boost national pride.
Ticker tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts, in Manhattan, New York City on 13 August 1969. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.
9. A total of 6 US Missions have landed men on the Moon
In total, 12 men have walked on the Moon in 6 NASA missions. These missions ran over a three year period ending in 1972. Since 1972 no other crewed mission has landed on the Moon, this is largely due to the huge costs involved. The whole Apollo programme cost an estimated $25.4 billion (about $156 billion in 2019 dollars).
China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency have all either sent probes or landed vehicles on the Moon. However the USA remains the only country to have ever put man on the Moon, demonstrating their world power status.
Al Worden is an American astronaut and engineer who was the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon.Listen Now
10. Conspiracy Theorists still insist the Moon landings were faked
Among the anti-vaxxers, 9/11 theorists and Flat Earthers are another group. Those who claim the Moon landings were faked.
The conspiracy theory was first started by Bill Kaysing who in 1979 self-published a pamphlet entitled ‘We Never Went to the Moon: America’s 30 Billion Dollar Swindle’.
The claims soon gained traction, despite hard evidence to the contrary including geological evidence recovered from the Moon and images from reconnaissance aircraft orbiting the earth showing motor tracks and footprints left on the surface of the Moon.
Explore the full story of the courage and ingenuity that cemented Apollo 13 as NASA's finest hour.Watch Now
In the age of the internet, where information can be shared at the click of a button, this alternative history has continued to cast doubt in the minds of many. A 2012 YouGov study revealed 1 in 6 Britons believe the Moon landings were staged or faked.
The moon has held our imaginations for millennia, yet it is only in modern times that we have visited this body, first with robotic machines and then with astronauts. Exploration of the moon has taught us much about the evolution of the solar system and ourselves. We&rsquove known for centuries about the effects on tides and biological cycles from a waxing and waning moon. But it took space-age exploration to show us how the moon is connected to human existence on a very fundamental level.
The Space Age arrives: Robots to the Moon
With the shocking launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957, the moon changed from a distant silver disk in the sky to a real place, a probable destination for probes and people. The Soviets struck first, flying Luna 1 by the moon in January 1959. They followed this success with a number of other robotic probes, culminating later the same year with Luna 3, which photographed the far side of the moon, never visible from Earth. From these early, poor quality images, we discovered that the far side has surprisingly little of the dark, smooth mare plains that cover about a third of the near side. Other surprises would soon follow.
In response to the 1961 flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The Apollo program greatly accelerated interest in exploring the moon. To ensure that human crews could safely land and depart from the lunar surface, it was important to understand its environment, surface and processes. At the same time, the robotic precursors would collect valuable information, constituting the first scientific exploration of another planetary body.
America&rsquos first step was the Ranger series of hard landers. These probes were designed to photograph the lunar surface at increasing levels of detail before crashing into the surface. After several heartbreaking failures, Ranger 7 succeeded in sending back detailed television pictures of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds) in July 1964. From the Ranger probes, we discovered that craters, those strange holes that pepper the lunar surface, range down in size to the very limits of resolution. Micrometeorite bombardment has ground up the surface rocks, creating a fine powder (called regolith). Two more Ranger spacecraft flew to the moon, culminating with the 1965 Live From the Moon television images from Ranger 9, careening into the spectacular lunar crater Alphonsus.
We got a much closer look at the moon&rsquos surface in early 1966. Again, the U.S.S.R. led the way by safely soft-landing the robotic Luna 9 spacecraft on the mare plain, Oceanus Procellarum. It found the surface to be powdery dirt strewn with a few rocks, but strong enough to support the weight of a landed spacecraft. In May 1966, the United States followed with the landing of the complex robotic spacecraft, Surveyor 1. It sent television pictures back to Earth, showing the surface and its physical properties in detail. Later Surveyor missions (five in all), collected physical data on soil properties, including its chemical composition. Analysis of the lunar surface showed that the dark maria had a composition similar to terrestrial basalt, a dark iron-rich lava, while the highlands near the very fresh rayed crater Tycho were lighter in color and strangely enriched in aluminum. This led to an astonishing revelation about the moon&rsquos early history after the first physical samples were later returned to Earth by the Apollo 11 crew.
The final robotic missions mapped the entire moon from orbit for the first time and obtained extremely high resolution pictures of potential landing sites, certifying their safety for the Apollo missions to follow. This U.S. Lunar Orbiter series conducted five mapping missions, whereby boulders as small as a couple of meters could be seen. They also obtained amazing views of scientifically interesting targets, such as the first &ldquopilot&rsquos eye&rdquo view of the large, brightly rayed crater Copernicus, dubbed the &ldquopicture of the century&rdquo by news reporters. More &ldquopictures of the century&rdquo were soon to be obtained by people walking on the moon.
From these robotic missions, we learned that the moon was cratered and pitted at all scales. The surface was powdery dust but strong enough to support the weight of people and machines. The moon had no global magnetic field or atmosphere and was made up of common rock types, similar to those found on Earth. Now the stage was set for the next giant leap in understanding lunar and planetary history.
Apollo: The Humans Follow
Apollo was the finest hour of America&rsquos space program. In just eight years, we had gone from zero human spaceflight capability to landing men on the surface of the moon. From these missions, scientists developed a new view of the origin and evolution of the planets and of life on Earth.
The 1968 Christmastime flight of Apollo 8 was a milestone &ndash humans left low Earth orbit and reached the moon, circling it for almost a day. For the first time, people gazed on the moon from orbit. They found it desolate and gray, but saw nothing to prevent journeying the final 62 miles to the surface. In May of 1969, Apollo 10 orbited the moon, testing the lunar lander. It was a dress rehearsal for the manned landing to come. Each of the Apollo missions &ndash and the astronauts who remained in the orbiting Command Module during the subsequent landed missions &ndash took hundreds of high-resolution photographs of the moon&rsquos surface. Their visual observations added to the burgeoning knowledge of lunar geology.
In a harrowing descent marked by program alarms from an overloaded computer and freezing fuel lines, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11 safely landed in Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) on July 20, 1969. They walked on the moon for over 2 hours, collecting rocks and soil and laying out experiment packages. From the Apollo 11 samples, we learned that the dark maria are ancient volcanic lavas, having crystallized over 3.6 billion years ago. Lunar samples are similar in chemical composition to Earth rocks but extremely dry, with no evidence for any significant water on the moon, past or present. Small bits of white rock were found in the soil, blasted to the site from distant highlands. Combined with the earlier results of the Surveyor 7 chemical analysis at the crater Tycho, scientists reasoned that the ancient moon had been nearly completely molten, covered in a layer of liquid rock. This idea of an early &ldquomagma ocean&rdquo has since been applied to all the rocky planets. Micrometeorite bombardment ground up the bedrock and gases from the sun were implanted on the surfaces of the lunar dust grains. While preserved on the moon, most of this ancient, shared history has been lost on our geologically active Earth.
In November 1969, Apollo 12 touched down in Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), near the previously landed Surveyor 3 spacecraft. This mission demonstrated our ability to precisely land on the moon, a skill critical for navigating to future sites in the highlands and rugged areas. Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean explored the site in two moonwalks. They collected over 75 pounds of samples and deployed a nuclear-powered experiment package. Lavas from this landing site are slightly younger than those of Apollo 11, but still over 3.1 billion years old. The highland component here is different from that of the first landing it has an unusual enrichment in radioactive and rare-earth elements, suggesting that the moon&rsquos crust is laterally variable and complex. As a bonus, the crew also returned a light colored soil, possibly part of a &ldquoray&rdquo cast-off and flung outward during the formation of the distant crater Copernicus &ndash 186 miles north of the landing site. Dating of glass from this soil suggests that Copernicus is &ldquoonly&rdquo 900 million years old, ancient by Earth standards but one of the youngest major features on the moon.
The explosion of an oxygen tank on Apollo 13 prevented it from landing on the moon. The three-man crew returned safely to Earth &mdash a memorable saga closely followed around the world. Apollo 14 was sent to a highlands site east of Apollo 12, near the ancient crater Fra Mauro. This site was chosen to collect rocks blasted out from deep within the moon by the formation of the giant Imbrium impact basin, a crater over 620 miles in diameter and situated 3,723 miles north of the landing site. Astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell conducted two moonwalks on the lunar surface. Towing a pull-cart filled with tools, they returned over 95 pounds of rock and soil. Samples from the Fra Mauro highlands are breccias (complex mixtures of ancient rocks), broken and crushed by the giant impact that created the Imbrium basin. From these samples, scientists learned the Imbrium impact occurred more than 3.8 billion years ago, before the dark mare lavas flooded the moon&rsquos surface but well after the formation of the moon&rsquos crust over 4.4 billion years ago. After this third landing, a new picture of lunar evolution was emerging. The moon was not a simple lump of cold meteorite nor was it an active volcanic inferno, but a planetary body with its own complex, subtle history.
In July 1971, with Apollo 15, NASA began the first of three what were termed "J" missions &ndash long duration stays on the moon with a greater focus on science than had been possible previously. Apollo 15, whose lunar module Falcon spent three days on the lunar surface, was the first mission to use a lunar rover &mdash a small electric cart that allowed the crew to travel many kilometers away from their landing craft. On three lunar rover excursions Dave Scott and Jim Irwin explored the beautiful Hadley-Apennine landing site &mdash a valley at the base of the main rim of the huge Imbrium basin that included both mare and highland rocks. The crew returned the &ldquoGenesis Rock,&rdquo composed almost entirely of a single mineral (plagioclase feldspar), representing the most ancient crustal rocks on the moon. They also found small fragments of an emerald green glass, formed when magma from the deep mantle explosively erupted through the crust in a spray of lava. They sampled the mare bedrock at the edge of Hadley Rille, a giant canyon and ancient lava channel, formed over 3.3 billion years ago. The Apollo 15 mission obtained over 80 kilograms of samples and its command module carried chemical sensors and cameras that mapped almost 20 percent of the moon&rsquos surface from orbit.
Apollo 16 was sent to the ancient crater Descartes, deep in the lunar highlands in April 1972. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke spent three days exploring the site. They traveled over 18 miles and collected more than 206 pounds of samples. They deployed and operated the first astronomical telescope on the moon. The highlands rocks, almost all breccias, attest to a long and complicated history of repeated impacts from space. Ancient crustal rocks, similar to the Genesis Rock of Apollo 15, were also found. One puzzling observation by the crew was the measurement of a very strong magnetic field on the surface. Even though the moon has no global magnetic field, some lunar samples have remnant magnetism, suggesting that they cooled in the presence of strong fields. Although we still do not understand lunar magnetism, with the flight of Lunar Prospector 26 years later, the Apollo 16 result would become a little clearer.
The last human mission to the moon to date, Apollo 17, was sent to the edge of Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity) -- another combination mare/highland site -- in December 1972. Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt (the first professional geologist sent to the moon) spent three days thoroughly exploring the Taurus-Littrow valley. They returned over 242 pounds of samples and deployed a set of new surface experiments. They made startling and significant discoveries. The crew found 3.6-billion-year old orange volcanic ash. From the mountains, they returned crustal rocks and complex breccias created during the impact that formed the Serenitatis basin almost 3.9 billion years ago. Lavas at this site are over 3.6 billion years old, documenting at least a 700-million-year span of lava flooding on the moon.
The Apollo missions revolutionized planetary science. The early solar system was one of colliding planets, melted surfaces and exploding volcanoes &mdash a complex and violent geologic mixture. The concept of an &ldquoearly bombardment&rdquo 3.9 billion years ago is now widely accepted for all the planets, but the actual evidence comes from study of the lunar samples. The constant rain of micrometeorites grinds away all airless planetary surfaces, albeit this sandblaster is extremely slow (the moon erodes at a rate of roughly 1 millimeter per million years.) While Apollo did a magnificent job of outlining lunar history, more surprises were waiting to be unveiled.
The Robots Return: Clementine and Lunar Prospector
In the 1990s, two small robotic missions were sent to the moon. For 71 days in 1994, the joint NASA-Strategic Defense Initiative Organization Clementine mission orbited the moon, testing sensors developed for space-based missile defense, as well as mapping the color and shape of the moon. From Clementine, we documented the enormous south pole-Aitken impact basin, a hole in the moon 1, 616 miles across and over 8 miles deep. This basin is so large, it may have excavated the entire crust down to the mantle. The color data from Clementine, combined with Apollo sample information, allows us to map regional compositions, creating the first true &ldquorock map&rdquo of the moon. Finally, Clementine gave us a tantalizing hint that permanently dark areas near the south pole of the moon may contain frozen water deposited over millions of years by impacting comets.
Soon after Clementine, the Lunar Prospector spacecraft mapped the moon&rsquos surface from orbit during its mission in 1998 and 1999. These data, combined with those from Clementine, gave scientists global compositional maps showing the complicated crust of the moon. Lunar Prospector also mapped the surface magnetic fields for the first time. The data showed that the Apollo 16 Descartes highlands is one of the strongest magnetic areas on the moon, explaining the surface measurements made by John Young in 1972. The mission also found enhanced quantities of hydrogen at both poles, adding to the lively controversy over the welcome prospect for lunar ice.
The moon throws stones at us: Lunar meteorites
In 1982, we made a startling discovery. A meteorite found in Antarctica, ALHA 81005, is from the moon! The rock is a complex regolith breccia, similar to those returned by the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. We have since found over 50 meteorites that, as determined from their unique chemical composition, come from the moon. These rocks were blasted off the lunar surface by impacts, then captured and swept up by Earth as it moves through space. The lunar meteorites come from random places all over the moon and they provide data complementary to the Apollo samples and the global maps of composition obtained by Clementine and Lunar Prospector.
The Future and Significance of Lunar Exploration
Now we are preparing for humanity&rsquos return to the moon. Over the next couple of years, at least four international robotic missions will orbit the moon, making global maps of unsurpassed quality. We will soft land on the moon, particularly the mysterious polar regions, to map the surface, examine the volatile deposits and characterize the unusual environment there. Ultimately, people will return to the moon. The goals of lunar return this time are not to prove that we can do it (as Apollo did) but to learn how to use the moon to support a new and growing spacefaring capability. On the moon, we will learn the skills and develop the technologies needed to live and work on another world. We will use this knowledge and technology to open the solar system for human exploration.
The story of the moon&rsquos history and processes is interesting in its own right, but it has also subtly shifted perspectives on our own origins. One of the most significant discoveries of the 1980s was the giant impact 65 million years ago in Mexico that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing the subsequent rise of mammals. This discovery (made possible by recognizing and interpreting the telltale chemical and physical signs of hypervelocity impact) came directly from the study of impact rocks and landforms stimulated by Apollo. Scientists now think that impacts are responsible for many, if not most, extinction events in the history of life on Earth. The moon retains this record and we will read it in detail upon our return.
By going to the moon, we continue to obtain new insights into how the universe works and our own origins. Lunar exploration revolutionized understanding of the collision of solid bodies. This process, previously thought to be bizarre and unusual, is now viewed as fundamental to planetary origin and evolution &ndash an unexpected connection. By returning to the moon, we anticipate learning even more about our past, and equally importantly, obtaining a glimpse into our future.
The history of the moon landing: everything you need to know
On 20 July 1969, the world watched in anticipation as Apollo 11’s ‘Eagle’ lunar module touched down on the moon’s surface. From the early Apollo 1 tragedy to the social pressures that threatened the 1969 moon landing, spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel traces the history and legacy of NASA’s early attempts to put man on the moon…
This competition is now closed
Published: July 20, 2020 at 3:05 am
Apollo 11’s moon landing was a prestigious international coup and a moment of global celebration – but the journey had been far from straightforward, coming at the end of a turbulent decade in American history…
On 16 July 1969, at 9.32am local time, the five F-1 engines on Apollo 11’s Saturn V roared to life. Thousands of people spread along the coast of Merritt Island, Florida saw the fire and exhaust a fraction of a second before they heard the rumbling – many pulled over on highways and on beaches, while others looked out from their hotel balconies. Millions more people around the world saw the launch on TV. They watched as the rocket became a dot in the sky and disappeared, taking astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon for NASA’s first attempted manned lunar landing.
For America, this day was nearly a decade in the making.
JFK and the origins of the moon landing
When President John F Kennedy took office on 20 January 1961, he inherited a country locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. But whatever worries the nation might have had about Soviet missile and satellite development, the incoming president tried to put minds at ease. The handsome 43-year-old gave America the impression that it was on the precipice of a golden age in which the government could solve the nation’s biggest problems.
On 12 April 1961, the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth, proving that Soviet engineering was far more advanced than anything America possessed. Five days later, Kennedy suffered another embarrassment with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, when US-backed exiles made a disastrous attempt to overthrow the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Seeking redemption, the president looked to NASA for a way to save face. The agency’s recommendation was to land a man on the moon.
A lunar landing wasn’t something America could do right away at the time NASA had only astronaut Alan Shepard’s suborbital Mercury mission under its belt, which had taken place on 5 May 1961. That 15-minute mission had afforded Shepard just five minutes of weightlessness, a far cry from going to the moon – but a moon landing wasn’t something the Soviets could do, either. A lunar landing was a sufficiently distant goal that levelled the playing field between the two nations and gave NASA engineers plenty of time to figure out how to get there. The result, if successful, would be a non-aggressive but definitive show of America’s technological superiority. Kennedy committed America to the moon landing on 25 May 1961, when he asked Congress to support a programme to be completed within the decade, in which he vowed NASA would land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.
Challenges to Kennedy’s moon landing plan
The Cold War escalated in the wake of Kennedy’s lunar landing promise. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy clashed with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in October 1962 after discovering the Soviets were setting up missile sites in Cuba. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of the island nation and the subsequent standoff lasted two weeks before the situation was resolved. The following year, Kennedy increased US involvement in Vietnam in an attempt to curb the spread of communism.
NASA, meanwhile, was wrapped up in the fundamental question of how to get to the moon. The most obvious way was to go straight there with a spacecraft that could land upright and would be ready to launch off the surface again for the return to Earth. This mission might have worked in science fiction, but in reality this spacecraft would be so heavy it would need an unfathomably large and expensive rocket called Nova to get it off the Earth in the first place.
A potential workaround was to launch the spacecraft in halves on two smaller Saturn rockets, but the risks of a failed launch or inability to connect (dock) the halves in orbit complicated the mission. A third method emerged known as the ‘lunar orbit rendezvous’. This left the heavy mothership in lunar orbit while a small, dedicated lander reached the surface. It was complicated, and astronauts would have to dock the spacecraft while in lunar orbit, but the mission was light enough to launch on a single Saturn rocket.
NASA finally settled on the method of a lunar orbit rendezvous in July 1962. This decision made, NASA now had to figure out how to live and work in space. The Mercury programme [the US’s first human spaceflight programme] couldn’t do that the spacecraft was too basic and didn’t have any hardware for docking, so NASA added an interim program to its Apollo planning called Gemini.
The cost of research and development caused NASA’s budget to rise, and Kennedy became increasingly concerned that the amount of money he was spending on this moon mission would destroy his reputation. So, believe it or not, he tried to cancel the Apollo project. Before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 September 1963, Kennedy called to replace Apollo with a joint US-Soviet mission to the moon that would foster peace and cooperation instead of competition.
A month later, on 22 November, Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas. His death threw the nation into mourning, but it also saved Apollo: NASA couldn’t let the fallen president’s dream die. It helped, too, that Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, was a big space proponent. He threw his support behind the programme after taking office on the same day Kennedy was assassinated.
A turbulent decade for the USA
Not long into his presidency, Johnson introduced programmes that attempted to free the United States from poverty and racial injustice. Social programmes like Medicare and Medicaid Head Start and Job Corps sought to give Americans a “helping hand rather than a hand out”, but the cost of these programmes clashed with the commitment he’d inherited from Kennedy to stop the spread of communism in Asia. Before long, America entered a full-scale war against the communist Viet Cong, which forced a new wave of conscription in the United States, known as ‘the draft’. Civil rights was also becoming an increasingly volatile issue. In 1964, Johnson pushed a Civil Rights Act through Congress that prohibited discrimination based on race in public spaces, but that didn’t eliminate the racist strain present in large parts of the country, or offset the poverty of many black urban areas.
Against this backdrop, NASA operated in something of a vacuum, the agency remaining laser-focused on taking strides towards the moon. Between 1965 and 1966, NASA launched 10 manned Gemini missions that demonstrated all the functionality the agency would need on a lunar mission. This programme proved, firstly, that a spacesuit offered sufficient protection outside the spacecraft, which was necessary for walking on the moon’s surface secondly, that fuel cells could power the spacecraft for the necessary two-week mission thirdly, that astronauts could manoeuvre their spacecraft to a rendezvous and docking as they would do in lunar orbit and, lastly, that the crew could survive in space for 14 days.
Apollo hardware, meanwhile, was nearing flight readiness: the Saturn V that would launch the mission the conical command module mothership the cylindrical service module with all the crew’s consumables and the bug-shaped lunar module that was custom-designed to support two men for a limited stay on the moon. As 1966 wound to a close, the agency was ready for its first manned Apollo mission.
Early tragedy for Apollo
Apollo 1 was intended to be a so-called “shakedown cruise”, a simple test of the command-service module in orbit before taking on more pointed objectives like a duration mission or a rendezvous test. But, tragically, it never got off the ground. During a routine pre-launch test on 27 January 1967, a fire broke out in the crew cabin where the environment was pure oxygen under pressure. The fire quickly became an inferno, and the crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee asphyxiated.
The subsequent investigation uncovered a host of technical and managerial problems plaguing Apollo. Issues and concerns with the spacecraft had been left unaddressed, owing to convoluted chains of command between NASA and the spacecraft’s contractor, North American Aviation, and the sense of urgency causing all parties involved to rush, as shown by the accident report and testimonies in NASA’s archive. There was, however, a small silver lining: the fire had occurred on the launch pad, which meant that NASA could take it apart to understand the root cause. NASA used the lessons learned in the accident investigation to build not only a safer spacecraft, but a culture that put safety above all else.
NASA was on the path to recovery as 1968 dawned, but America seemed divided like never before. Riots based on racial issues were common, as were anti-Vietnam War protests and feminist demonstrations calling for women’s rights. Both Martin Luther King Jr and Senator Bobby Kennedy were assassinated that year. Amid this national discord, NASA launched Apollo missions 4, 5, and 6 as tests of both rocket and spacecraft hardware. In October 1968, Apollo 7 marked NASA’s return to manned spaceflight with a simple orbital test of the command-service module. In December, it launched Apollo 8 to the moon with another command-service module, proving that the mothership was up to the lunar journey. The year 1969 opened with the final checks for the lunar landing Apollo 9 tested the lunar module in Earth orbit and Apollo 10 did a full ‘dress rehearsal’ of the lunar landing. Now, all that was left to do was touch down on the moon’s surface.
Against the deadline
Apollo 11 launched on 16 July 1969. For three days people followed updates of the crew’s progress via news bulletins and TV transmissions from translunar space. By the time Apollo 11 entered lunar orbit on 19 July after more than 75 hours in space, the real-life drama had captivated America. On 20 July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin transferred into the lunar module christened ‘Eagle’ and separated from Mike Collins in the command-service module ‘Columbia’. They adjusted their orbit to pass lower over the moon’s surface, then began their descent with Americans listening to the voice transmissions broadcast live on TV and radio. The world heard call alarms in the ‘Eagle’ – 1201 and 1202 programme alarms that forced the lunar module’s computer to reboot – and heard NASA give the crew a ‘GO’ for a continued descent. At 4.17pm Eastern Time, the ‘Eagle’ landed.
The world stopped and watched Neil Armstrong take man’s first step on the moon seven hours later. When he did, ($28 billion only 53 percent of Americans believed that the programme had been worth the cost, a staggering $25 billion USD.
The legacy of Apollo 11
Six missions flew to the moon after Apollo 11, all of them successful landings that emphasised science and exploration (with the infamous exception of Apollo 13 – an explosion on board forced it to circle the moon without landing). Apollo 12 made a pinpoint landing to recover hardware from the Surveyor 3 probe that had landed three years earlier. Apollo 14 explored the more geologically-diverse ‘Fra Mauro’ formation on the moon’s surface, rich in samples from an impact event. Apollos 15, 16, and 17 added a lunar rover to the mission, thereby extending the ground that astronauts could cover in a single moonwalk. These missions explored mountain regions, highlands, and valleys on the moon, adding diversity to the collected samples. And each of these missions left instruments on the moon’s surface to measure seismic events and solar wind, among other things. All told, the six landing missions brought back 842 pounds of rocks and other samples and a wealth of data that scientists continue to use to this day.
NASA’s plan was to build on Apollo’s success with the Apollo Applications Program (AAP). This would have seen longer lunar missions and even potential manned missions to Mars and Venus. But in the early 1970s, with President Richard Nixon newly in office, America was even less interested in funding space science. Apollo was cut short – Apollos 18, 19, and 20 were cancelled – and the AAP was canned in favour of the shuttle programme, which was designed to make spaceflight routine and ultimately more cost-effective.
From our modern perspective, 50 years after Armstrong’s “one small step,” it’s easy to romanticise Apollo 11 and the whole lunar landing programme as a peaceful one done for the sake of exploration and human ingenuity. In reality, going to the moon was an offshoot of the Cold war, with Apollo 11’s landing a moment of success at the end of a difficult decade.
Amy Shira Teitel is a spaceflight historian, author, YouTuber, and popular space personality. She holds a Bachelor’s degree with combined honours in History of Science and Technology Studies and a Master’s in Science and Technology Studies.
This article was first published in July 2019 on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing
7 Interesting Facts About the First Moon Landing.
It has been a full 50 years that human being first stepped foot on the moon. And half a century later, scientists at NASA are gearing up to do it again.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were the first men on the moon. With Neil Armstrong putting down the first human footprint on the surface of the moon.
Upon landing, he declared “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But it sure wasn’t a small step because he had to jump 3.5 ft. From the lunar module.
On July 20, 1969, people watched as commander Neil Armstrong and the lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the surface of the moon.
Apollo 11 mission was a historic event with about 650 million viewers worldwide.
And to celebrate 50 years of the first man on the moon, the Apollo 11 mission, or the first moon landing, here are 7 interesting facts.
The Women Behind the Apollo 11 Mission.
While the whole world witnessed two men stepping outside of the lunar module and set their first step, there were a few women who played a major role in making it possible.
Katherine Johnson, a NASA research mathematician, was the woman who wrote the calculations for the Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon.
Joann Morgan was the only woman inside the firing roo, for the launch of the Saturn V rocket. She was responsible for listening to communications for any problems.
Other “hidden figures” of the Apollo 11 mission were Susan Finley who performed trajectory computations for rocket launches by hand.
And Margaret Hamilton who was the lead Apollo flight software designer.
The Number of People Required.
Creating history takes a lot of effort.
While the whole world celebrates Neil Armstrong for being the first man to set foot on the moon, the forget the people involved behind the scene.
For starters Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins also accompanied Armstrong in the historic event.
For the entire mission, the Apollo program needed the skills and expertise of approximately 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians combined.
The Smell of the Moondust.
The moment the astronauts got back inside the Lunar Module after stepping on the moon surface, they were able to smell the strong odor of the moon dust.
The astronauts could compare the smell of the moon dust to that of gun powder.
According to Neil Armstrong, moondust had a scent similar to “wet ashes in a fireplace”.
A Pen Helped in the Lunar Ascent.
There were so many moments and situations that could’ve made Apollo 11 mission a failure.
One of which was Buzz Aldrin accidentally damaging a crucial circuit breaker. This happened while he was moving about the cabin.
But, thanks to Neil Armstrong’s quick and innovative thinking the mission became a success.
He used a felt-tipped pen to activate the broken circuit breaker and saved the day.
The Suit Making Competition.
As historic as the moon landing itself was, the creation of the astronaut’s suit was also a difficult and controversial task.
For the making of the suit suitable of the lunar ascent, NASA approached the International Latex Corporation (ILC) alongside the aerospace company Hamilton Standard.
Cautious about the move, Hamilton Standard designed their own suit and submitted to NASA. Unfortunately, the suit got rejected.
Hamilton Standard then went ahead and blamed ILC for the whole thing resulting in losing the contract.
A few years later, however, NASA announced a competition for a new suit.
Few of the retired ILC employees took this as an opportunity, broke into their old office, stole their original design, made some important changed and submitted it to NASA.
ILC was chosen as the winner and ironically Hamilton Standard was chosen to provide the oxygen tanks for the suit.
Not Fake News.
Conspiracy theories have been going around for as long as the news of the first man on the moon.
Even though 650 million people viewed it and there is plenty of evidence suggesting that men did go to the moon, there are people till date calling it fake news.
But according to David Robert Grimes, Ph.D., from the University of Oxford and the entire panel scientists, technicians, and engineers think otherwise.
Grimes developed a mathematical model in 2015 determining that if the moon landing was indeed fake news, an estimated 411,000 people would’ve been in on the hoax.
And within 3 years and 8 months, at least one person would have leaked the conspiracy.
An Inspiration for Inventions.
The Apollo 11 mission was one-of-it’s-kind historic moment for the entire mankind.
It pushed and inspired many more expeditions to the moon and outer space. We can easily say it changed the course of history and how people viewed space.
But the Apollo 11 didn’t just inspire and influence future space missions.
Apollo engineering also inspired a lot of products and technologies.
Things like Dustbuster cordless vacuums, anti-fog ski goggles, freeze-dried backpacking meals, studless winter tires, and Nike Air running shoes actually made our day-to-day life easier.
Facts about Landing on the Moon 5: the failure
It is not a new thing to spot failure during the launch of unmanned lunar rover missions. During the landing, Luna 23, Luna 18 and Luna 15 crashed.
Facts about Landing on the Moon 6: the total men landed on moon
The moon had been landed by 12 men. During the six NASA missions, there would be two pilot-astronauts of United States flew a Lunar Modular.
facts about landing on the moon
1969 Moon Landing: What We Know
There are several things that we know for certain about the moon landing because they’ve been well documented. For example, we know that take-off started at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16th, with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins ready to make history. And, 76 hours later, these astronauts landed on the moon transmitting the now-iconic, "The Eagle has landed" message. Additionally, the mission was filmed with a television camera, which was attached to the lunar module.
As Neil Armstrong stepped down the ladder, hundreds of millions of people held their breath at home. And, when his foot touched down on the moon’s surface, he rejoiced, saying, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong was joined by Aldrin and together they planted an American flag on the moon’s surface documented the terrain and took a call with then-President Richard Nixon. Collins stayed behind in the command module.
The astronauts spent the equivalent of an Earth night on the moon before heading back to the command module. Before leaving, they also placed a plaque, which reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." In total, this mission cost NASA $25 billion, which, by today’s standards, would amount to around $156 billion.
Of course, this wasn’t the last time astronauts touched down on the moon. Overall, there would be five planned lunar landing missions. As of 2021, the last person who walked on the moon, Eugene Cernan, did so in December 1972 as part of the Apollo 17 mission.
10 Astounding Facts About the First Moon Landing
On July 20, 1969, mankind made history when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The feat was a huge achievement and since then, only 11 others have had the honor to walk on the lunar surface. Interestingly, none of the 12 people who have had the once in a lifetime opportunity to walk on the moon ever did it more than once. Soon after Neil Armstrong touched the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin took a leap out of the Lunar Module to become the second man to walk on the moon. During their EVA, they collected rocks, planted the US flag, and performed various experiments. But, they only touched the surface for 2 hours, 31 minutes and 40 seconds before returning to the Lunar Module.
1. When Apollo astronauts returned to Earth after making a successful moon landing, they had to go through customs and fill out a form.
Image: NASA/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
After the historic moon landing mission and their successful return to Earth, the Apollo 11 astronauts were greeted by customs at the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii on July 24, 1969. The customs form was signed by all three astronauts with their cargo declared and their flight route listed as starting at Cape Kennedy with a stopover on the moon. According to the customs form, their listed cargo included moon rocks, moon dust and other lunar samples.
NASA astronauts still have to go through this process today but for conventional reasons. Astronauts who are assigned to work on the International Space Station have to go through training processes in Japan, Canada, Europe and Russia. This step is to ensure that the astronauts are familiar with different systems, modules and tools used in the space station which is the result of a 10 year project by 16 different countries.
2. Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the moon, yet there are only a few images of him walking on the moon.
It might come as a surprise that the first man to ever walk on the moon does not appear in front of the camera. In fact, there is only one known photograph of him on the moon, and on the photo, he has his back to the camera. This is because the checklist for the Apollo 11 mission called for Neil Armstrong to have the only camera.Apart from that, Armstrong was also working to capture as many images of the lunar surface and samples within the limited amount of time that he had.
3. Michael Collins, the third Apollo 11 astronaut never got to walk on the moon.
While the whole world is aware of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, there was a third man who is often forgotten. Michael Collins was Apollo 11’s third astronaut who traveled all the way to the moon but never got the chance to walk on it. In fact, he spent around 20 hours orbiting the moon, all alone and afraid. Collins played a pivotal role in the historic mission since he stayed behind in Columbia and took photos of the lunar surface until the other two returned.
As Neil and Buzz descended towards the lunar surface using the Lunar Module Eagle, Collins sat there, wondering if they would return or if he would be forced to leave the men behind. Even while preparing for the mission, Collins was afraid of the fact that if the engine on the Eagle failed or malfunctioned, he would have to leave his fellow astronauts behind. During those lone 20 hours, circling the other side of the moon, Collins wrote: “I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
4. The three astronauts couldn’t afford life insurance since it would cost a fortune to take a policy for someone who is on a mission to the moon. Instead, they signed hundreds of covers with important dates and gave it to their families.
Image: NASA/Neil Armstrong
Insurance policies can be expensive, especially when it’s for someone who is about to embark on a long and unclear journey. Even though NASA and the Apollo 11 crew were well prepared, there was always a chance of something unexpected happening. The astronauts wanted to take insurance policies on themselves for their families, in case something went wrong. However, that proved to be tough since it would cost a fortune to take a policy on someone who is about to board a rocket to the moon.
But the crew had something else in mind. They were already famous and knew that their autographs could be of value to their family members. Weeks before the launch when the three astronauts entered quarantine, they used the free time to sign hundreds of covers with important dates. Before leaving Earth, they gave the signed covers to a mutual friend, who distributed them to their family members. It was life insurance in the form of autographs.
5. Armstrong’s famed “one small step” line was pre-planned at least according to his brother.
Image: NASA/Buzz Aldrin
Until his last breath in 2012, Armstrong insisted that his famous line “one small step”, that he was heard quoting in 1969 when he became the first man to walk on the moon, was spontaneous. He maintained that the line only came to him right before he was about to take the first steps onto the lunar surface. After he passed away, a BBC documentary was released. In the documentary, Dean Armstrong, Neil Armstrong’s brother, recalls the moment from their past when Neil handed him a piece of paper.
Months before the Apollo mission, Neil spent time with his family on Cape Cod. One late night, when the family was playing a board game, Neil handed Dean a piece of paper that said: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. Neil then asked Dean what he thought of that, to which Dean replied, ‘fabulous’. Neil then said, “I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it”. Neither Buzz Aldrin nor Michael Collins had any idea of the quote until it was said. The only exception was Dean.
6. Neil Armstrong was chosen to be the first person to step foot on the moon. According to NASA, this was due to the basic structural design of a part of the Eagle.
29 Astronauts trained for the Apollo mission to become the first human beings to travel to the moon. On January of 1969, NASA announced that only three were chosen from the 29. Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins became the official crew of Apollo 11. Since then, it was a debate to whether Armstrong or Aldrin should be the first one to take the giant leap for mankind. Although it was decided that both men would walk on the moon, it was considered an honor to be the first one.
As months went by and the mission was fast approaching, rumors were than Aldrin would be given the honor. Three months before liftoff, it was announced that Armstrong would be the first to leave the Eagle and take the first steps. According to NASA, this was because of how the Eagle was designed. The hatch opened to one side and it was right next to the pilot of the ship, who happened to be Neil Armstrong. NASA also pointed out that Armstrong entered the program in 1962, while Aldrin came in 1963 which made him a senior member.
7. The astronauts left behind tools as well as a mirror on the moon.
Image: NASA/Apollo Archive
After successfully landing on the lunar surface, the astronauts performed walks and collected samples. The samples included rocks and moon dust, which was to be taken back to Earth to conduct studies. However, the Eagle only had enough fuel to lift a limited amount of weight. This is why the astronauts left behind tools that aided them during the expedition. The descent stage of the lunar module was also left behind which turned it into a landmark. Scales, hammers, and a laser reflector that was used to measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon were also left behind.
The descent stage of the lunar module was intentionally left behind. On the plaque, it says: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind”. Neil and Buzz also installed a mirror on the moon’s surface so that we can perform Lunar Laser Ranging experiments and measure how far away the moon is at all times which is done by calculating how long it takes the beam to return to Earth.
8. The Eagle landed with only around 20 seconds of fuel left.
When the lunar module started its descent towards the moon, the systems were supposed to be on autopilot. Neil Armstrong sat back in case something went wrong, and as expected, something did go wrong. The guidance systems started to show errors as the descent was taking place. Neil took the controls and started the descent himself, since the system failures caused the lunar module to miss the designated landing zone. As the module was descending, the fuel was running extremely low. Neil had no choice but to perform the descent as slow as possible or he would have to abort the mission. After making it as far as they already had, both astronauts agreed that they would rather try than turn around.
The astronauts were supposed to land with 120 seconds worth of fuel left in the tanks but as the moon was fast approaching, the fuel tank was running low. The lunar module was still hovering 30 meters above the ground with 60 seconds of fuel left but thankfully, Neil was able to find a smooth landing spot. With barely 20 seconds worth of fuel left in the descent tank, the module touched the lunar surface and Neil was quoted saying: “Houston. The Eagle has landed”.
9. President Nixon had a speech ready in case things didn’t go as planned.
It was always a fear that something could malfunction and cause the mission to be a failure. President Nixon and his staff were well aware of the risks and the possibility that the men may never return to planet Earth. This is the reason why Collins was asked to stay behind and orbit the moon, as a precaution. In case the mission went south, Nixon had a speech ready and was also prepared to call the wives of the astronauts.
It read: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that their is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”
Thankfully, the mission was successful and all three astronauts returned home safe and sound.
10. Upon their return, the astronauts didn’t get to reunite with their families right away. All three had to stay in quarantine for 21 days in case they’d brought home any lunar contagions.
Once safely back on Earth, the Apollo 11 astronauts had to contain their eagerness to meet their family members for 21 days. Although the mission was successful, NASA was unsure of any foreign contaminants or microorganisms. As a precaution, they recommended that the astronauts be quarantined and analyzed for three weeks before marking them as safe. Apollo 12 and 14 crew members were also quarantined. Today, astronauts don’t have to go through the painstaking process of being quarantined since by the time Apollo 15 mission was completed, it was determined that the moon had no contaminants in the explored areas.
In 1965, Gemini V became the first NASA crew to have a dedicated insignia, which was designed by pilot Pete Conrad and command pilot Gordon Cooper. This tradition of a crew wearing patches designed by its own members has continued over the years, with the Apollo 11 crew following suit. Ultimately, they decided to make the concept a representation of the larger goals of NASA—and America—at the time.
"We wanted to keep our three names off it because we wanted the design to be representative of everyone who had worked toward a lunar landing, and there were thousands who could take a proprietary interest in it, yet who would never see their names woven into the fabric of a patch,” Collins said. “Further, we wanted the design to be symbolic rather than explicit."
First Moon Landing Fast Facts
This week is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
Originally Published: 15 SEP 13 20:04 ET
Updated: 14 JUL 19 13:58 ET
(CNN) -- Here's a look at the first moon landing on July 20, 1969. The moon landing was watched by an estimated 600 million people around the world.
July 20, 1969 - [4:17 p.m. EDT] Apollo 11 becomes the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon.
Neil Armstrong (commander), Buzz Aldrin (lunar module pilot) and Michael Collins (command module pilot) were the crew.
The Apollo 11 spacecraft consisted of the command module, Columbia, and the lunar module, Eagle.
The crew traveled 240,000 miles from the Earth to the moon in 76 hours.
ABC, CBS, and NBC spent, collectively, between $11 million and $12 million on Apollo 11 coverage and covered the mission from Sunday morning until Monday evening.
May 25, 1961 - President John F. Kennedy addresses Congress, "First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
November 21, 1962 - President Kennedy tells NASA Administrator James Webb, "This is, whether we like it or not, a race. Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians."
May 18, 1969 - Apollo 10 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This launch is a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11. The crew, Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan, orbit the moon and then return to earth eight days, three minutes and three seconds later.
July 16, 1969 - At 9:32 a.m. EDT Apollo 11 lifts off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
July 20, 1969 - At 1:47 p.m. EDT Armstrong and Aldrin, in the lunar module Eagle, separate from the command module. Collins remains onboard the Columbia orbiting the moon.
- 4:17 p.m. EDT - The Eagle lands.
- 4:18 p.m. EDT - "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," Armstrong reports. When the lunar module lands on the moon's surface at the Sea of Tranquility, it has less than 40 seconds of fuel left.
- 10:56 p.m. EDT - Armstrong says, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," as he becomes the first human to set foot on the moon.
- 11:15 p.m. EDT (approx.) - Buzz Aldrin joins Armstrong on the moon. The men read from a plaque signed by the three crew members and the president, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
- 11:48 p.m. EDT - President Nixon speaks to Armstrong and Aldrin via radio from the Oval Office, "(it) certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made." They speak for two minutes and the call is televised on both ends.
- Armstrong and Aldrin spend over two hours collecting moon rock samples and data, and spend the night on board the Eagle.
July 21, 1969 - At 1:54 p.m. EDT - The Eagle departs from the moon to rendezvous with Columbia.
- 5:35 p.m. EDT - The Eagle docks with Columbia. After transferring moon rocks, data, and equipment, the Eagle is jettisoned, and the crew begins the flight back to Earth.
July 22, 1969 - Columbia reaches a trajectory toward Earth.
July 24, 1969 - At 12:50 p.m. EDT Columbia splashes down, eight days, three hours and 18 minutes after liftoff. The astronauts return to Earth in the Pacific Ocean about 900 miles from Hawaii, then go into quarantine aboard the USS Hornet.
August 10, 1969 - The astronauts are released from quarantine.
July 9, 2019 - The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in partnership with the US Department of the Interior and 59 Productions announces a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing July 16 through July 20. Included in the presentation "Apollo 50: Go for the Moon," will be a full-sized projection on the east side of the Washington Monument for three nights July 16 through July 18 of the Saturn V rocket that sent Apollo 11 into orbit.
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Dreaming on land
Before the astronauts landed, there were the countless people who both dreamed and engineered our way into the sky.
- After 21 hours 38 minutes on the Moon’s surface, the astronauts used Eagle’s ascent stage to launch it back into lunar orbit.
- After various maneuvers, Eagle once again docked with Columbia, and the trip back to Earth began soon afterward.
- Splashdown of Apollo 11 occurred in the Pacific Ocean about 1,400 km (900 miles) southwest of Hawaii on July 24.
- After their return, the astronauts were quarantined for 21 days from the time Eagle had left the Moon.
- They were checked for any diseases they might have brought back from the Moon.
Top Image Credit: Project Apollo Archive/NASA
More Articles on Moon Landing
In contrast to the Soviet lunar-landing efforts, during 1969 all went well for the Apollo program. In March the Apollo 9 crew successfully tested the Lunar Module in Earth orbit, and in May the Apollo 10 crew carried out a full dress rehearsal for the landing, coming within 15,200 metres (50,000 feet) of the lunar surface.