Apollo 11: the First Lunar Landing

In July 1969, those who could gathered around available television sets and radios for the moment that human life would leave their first trace on the Moon. At 0256 GMT Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Module Eagle. As his left foot touched the lunar surface, he declared the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Apollo 11 liftoff from launch tower camera.Nasa Domain

A classic view of Apollo 11’s liftoff from a launch tower camera. The Saturn V’s second stage (near the bottom of the picture) and the first stage (not visible) are 11m in diameter, the same diameter as Armagh Planetarium’s Digital Theatre. (Image credit: NASA)

 

In July 2014 we are celebrating 45 years since the first lunar landing, a remarkable event that extended the limit of mankind’s abilities. With technology advancing daily, the boundaries to what humanity can do and where human beings can venture sometimes seems to be becoming limitless. Much of the technology  we have today is very different to that of the 1960’s, so how was it possible to send a man to the harsh, airless and inhabitable surface of the Moon?

The first lunar landing crew was Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, all who were previously experienced astronauts. Before these three men ventured to the Moon there had been four successful Apollo missions in the six months beforehand. In the previous missions, the aims were to successfully test the flight equipment before the first lunar landing mission.

  • Apollo 7 tested the Command and Service Module (CSM) and the crew orbited the Earth 163 times and spent 10 days and 20 hours in space.
  • Afterwards the Apollo 8 mission orbited the Moon sending back extraordinary pictures of the Earth’s natural satellite whilst completing ten full Lunar orbits within the 146 hours 59 minutes 49 seconds of the entire mission.
  • Apollo 9 tested the lunar hardware in Earth orbit to test its stability and the human body’s reaction to weightlessness and other bodily reactions. The crew found that their eyesight acuity actually improved within the orbit as they were able to spot the Pegasus ll satellite from 1000 miles distance. This is ironic as in the present day missions to the International Space Station, many astronauts who spend prolonged time in space actually suffer issues with eyesight upon their return to earth.
  • Apollo 10 tested orbiting the Moon whilst imaging the surface and retrieving nearly six hours worth of colour footage of the Moon. Essentially this mission was a practice run of the actual Apollo 11 Moon landing. The crew descended to an altitude of less than 47 000 feet (14 326 meters) above the Moon within the Lunar Module. The Apollo 10 mission was the closest any crew had got to the Moon before, a mere two months before their fellow comrades in Apollo 11 would leave a permanent footstep on the Moon and in the history of human ingenuity and achievement.

So it is clear that the first lunar landing was no lucky coincidence but in fact a well planned, organised and practised first attempt but the question lies with how did they actually get there.

 

The crew saw the Earth reduced to a mere astronomical body against the blackness of space. The CSM flew "backwards" towards the Moon, so the astronauts could not see their destination until their craft entered lunar orbit. (Image credit: Buzz Aldrin/NASA)

The crew saw the Earth reduced to a mere astronomical body against the blackness of space. The CSM flew “backwards” towards the Moon, so the astronauts could not see their destination until their craft entered lunar orbit. (Image credit: Buzz Aldrin/NASA)

 

July 16th 1969 – The Apollo 11 mission started with the spacecraft sitting atop the Saturn V launch vehicle which would propel the Apollo 11 vehicles into space. At 363 ft (111m) tall and comprised of five parts (three stages plus the two Apollo spacecraft), the initial launch is one of the most dangerous parts of the space program. Sitting on top of the Saturn V which held the three sets of engines for each stage of the journey equally holding masses of potentially explosive material, it would have been understandable if the astronauts felt fear even before leaving the Earth.   As the spacecraft’s fuel burned up, the first two stages of the Saturn V and the Launch Escape System tower on top detached and fall back to Earth.

After launch the spacecraft entered orbit around the Earth and after one-and-a-half orbits, the still attached third stage of the Saturn V ignited and sends the combined craft towards the Moon. After a while the Command Service Module (CSM) named Columbia, detached from the final stage of the Saturn V and completed an 180o turn before attaching to the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle.

 

Michael Collin took this image of Eagle (with Aldrin and Armstrong onboard) as he checked that the LM's landing legs had deployed correctly. (Image credit: Michael Collins/NASA)

Michael Collins took this image of Eagle (with Aldrin and Armstrong onboard) in lunar orbit as he checked that the LM’s landing legs had deployed correctly. (Image credit: Michael Collins/NASA)

 

July 19th 1969 – Apollo 11 entered an orbit around the Moon for 24 hours to test the LM and communication boards. Finally Armstrong and Aldrin in Eagle separated from Colombia and began their decent to the lunar surface. During this time, Michael Collins stayed on the CSM so he could continue to communicate with the Earth and the Lunar Module, therefore he never got to set foot on the Moon. His solo vigil over the Moon lasted 22 hours; he must have felt as though he was the loneliest man in the Universe.

July 20th 1969 – The LM landed on the Sea of Tranquillity prompting Armstrong’s famous message back to Earth, “Houston. Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Six hours later, the eager crew skipped a planned sleep break and Neil Armstrong set his foot onto the lunar surface and into history as the first human on the Moon.

 

Aldrin salutes the U.S. Flag . Nasa domain

Stars and Stripes forever! Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag. Alas the blast from the Ascent Engine blew the flag over as the crew left the Moon. (Image: Neil Armstrong/NASA)

 

Whilst on the Moon, both Aldrin and Armstrong completed many tasks such as collecting 50 pounds of Moon rocks, photographing the surface, installing a modest set of instruments and experiments and erecting a pole with the American flag. Despite taking some lunar material back to Earth they also left behind some objects. Aldrin and Armstrong left a patch from the Apollo 1 mission, medals from Russian cosmonauts, a symbol of the American eagle carrying an olive branch to symbolise peace (designed by Collins, an acomplished artist) and a disc with 73 messages from countries around the world.

Aldrin looking at Eagle. He is standing by a seismometer, this transmitted data on moonquakes until it was switched off (to save money) in 1977 (image credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA)

Aldrin looking at Eagle. He is standing by a seismometer, this transmitted data on moonquakes until it was switched off (to save money) in 1977 (image credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA)

 

 

Aldrin again (Armstrong appears in only two pictures taken during the moonwalk). beside is the Swiss-made solar wind experiment. The Sea of tranquility was chosen for the first landing for its monotonous flat landscape. It made for an easier landing but it was an uninspiring backdrop for photographs. (image credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA)

Aldrin again (Armstrong appears in only two pictures taken during the moonwalk). beside is the Swiss-made solar wind experiment. The Sea of tranquility was chosen for the first landing for its monotonous flat landscape. It made for an easier landing but it was an uninspiring backdrop for photographs. (Image credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA)

 

The crew did not venture far from the LM on this pioneering adventure. (image credit: NASA)

The crew did not venture far from the LM on this pioneering adventure. (image credit: NASA)

 

July 21st 1969 – Twenty one hours later Armstrong and Aldrin ignited the LM’s ascent engine on the Lunar Module leaving the lower Ascent Stage behind. They travelled back into the Moon’s orbit and docked with the CSM to begin their journey back to Earth.

July 24th 1969 – Entering the Earth’s atmosphere at 36 194 feet per second (more than 11km per second, making them among the fast moving human beings ever), they landed in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51pm. Waiting nearby was the U.S.S Hornet which recovered the three astronauts. Floating in a rubber boat the crew were washed down with disinfectant to prevent any potential contamination from  any lunar micro-organisms. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were placed in quarantine until 10 August before being able to physically communicate with fellow colleagues or family members. Despite their release from quarantine, they remained encapsulated in history as the first Apollo crew to reach the Moon and complete the nationally set goal by President John Kennedy to successfully complete a lunar landing.

 

Columbia floats on the Pacific Ocean. The crew plus a US Navy diver (Lt. Clancy Hatleberg) are in the nearby boat. (image credit: US Navy)

Columbia floats on the Pacific Ocean. The grey-suited crew plus US Navy diver Lt. Clancy Hatleberg are in the nearby boat. See Comment section for a discussion of the quarantine procedures. (image credit: US Navy)

 

 

Apollo 11 astronauts, still in their quarantine van, are greeted by their wives upon arrival at Ellington Air Force Base.Nasa Domain

“Hello ladies!” The Apollo 11 astronauts, still in their quarantine van, are greeted by their wives upon arrival at Ellington Air Force Base. Note the moustache grown by Collins since his return. (Image credit: NASA)

 

The efforts and determination of the Apollo teams from Apollo 1 to the historic Apollo 11 made a step outside the comfort of Earth not just physically but also for future advances in space travel. Due to the success of the Apollo program there are has been progressions in space travel and plans are being made to put humans on our nearby planet Mars. It would appear that Armstrong’s leap for mankind not only proved what human life was capable of but established a hope for discovery, a determination for the future and a thirst for knowledge that would appear lies ahead in future missions.

 

Apollo 11 In 100 Seconds from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

 

 

(Article by Samantha Steed, Education Support Officer)