apollo landing
July 20, 2014

Looking Back On Apollo 11 On The 45th Anniversary Of Historic Lunar Landing

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy promised that America would put the first man on the moon by the end of the decade. The technology to do so did not exist, the national drive to do so did not exist, and we were behind in what has since been called the Space Race with the USSR.

[ Watch: President Kennedy’s ‘Moon Speech’ at Rice University ]

Despite all of these obstacles and more, Astronaut Neil Armstrong walked across the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. President Kennedy, who would only live another four months, and the American public watched breathlessly as Walter Cronkite narrated the launch from Cape Kennedy, Florida on the 16th through the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on July 24th.

[ Watch: Apollo 11 Videos ]

The mission started with a launch from Cape Kennedy at 9:32am EDT (13:32:00 UT) with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins aboard. All three were veteran astronauts, having participated in the Gemini program: Armstrong was Command Pilot on Gemini VIII, Aldrin was Pilot on Gemini XII and Collins was Pilot on Gemini X. According to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, they fulfilled different roles on the Apollo 11 mission. Armstrong was the Commander on this mission, with Aldrin in the slot of Lunar Module Pilot and Collins as Command Module pilot.

The flight to the moon was taken in four stages: Earth orbit, Earth gravity escape, lunar orbit, and lunar descent. The crew spent just over 2 hours in Earth orbit before the S-IVB engine was reignited for acceleration to push the spacecraft out of Earth's gravity.

Seventy five hours and 50 minutes after launch (a little over three full days, ground time) the spacecraft entered an elliptical orbit around the Moon's equator. The orbit was then changed to a nearly circular one 66 by 54 nautical miles above the surface.

Michael Collins remained aboard the Command Module (CM) “Columbia” as Armstrong and Aldrin began their descent to the surface of the Moon in the Lunar Module (LM) “Eagle”. The module touched down 102 hours, 45 minutes and 40 seconds after launching from Earth.

The astronauts and NASA were not taking chances. The first thing that happened on the moon was not a triumphant leap to the surface, but rather a slow and cautious reconditioning of the Lunar Module to prepare it for a quick liftoff if necessary.

As he exited the vehicle, Armstrong deployed the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA). MESA contained the surface camera which recorded humankind's first steps on the Moon. Armstrong then said what was to become one of the most iconic one-liners in American history, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The astronauts were still being cautious at this point. Before Aldrin descended, or any other experiments were undertaken, Armstrong gathered a small sample of lunar surface material and stowed it to ensure, if an emergency takeoff were needed, it would not all have been in vain.

[ Watch: One Small Step, One Giant Leap Speech ]

Armstrong and Aldrin performed many other experiments, including the deployment of a Solar Wind Composition (SWC) experiment, collection of a larger sample of lunar material, panoramic photographs of the region near the landing site and the lunar horizon, close-up photographs of in-place lunar surface material, deployment of a Laser-Ranging Retroreflector (LRRR) and a Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP), and collection of two core-tube samples of the lunar surface.

They accomplished all of this in just over two hours, and then returned to the LM to sleep and prepare it for liftoff. Twenty one hours and 36 minutes after lunar landing, the LM ascent began. The LM reconnected with the CM, and the combined spacecraft successfully returned to Earth on July 26th, 1969.

The astronaut team landed safely in the Pacific Ocean and was transported to Hawaii to be flown back to Florida. Like any other flight crew returning from an “alien” country, they had to pass through customs and declare any items brought home with them. All three astronauts signed their customs declaration, listing “moon rock and moon dust samples” as their cargo. You can see a copy of the declaration here.

Today, 45 years after this historic event, Buzz Aldrin is asking everyone to share their memories of the Apollo 11 mission on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.com/Apollo 45 with #Apollo45.

NASA is taking a different look at celebrating this achievement. The Space Agency wants to reignite the public's passion for space with its “Path to Mars.” Research projects on Earth and aboard the International Space Station are teaching us lessons about how astronauts can live, work and thrive in space for longer periods, as well as driving advances in the technological sectors needed to get us there.

Using technologies being developed today for missions to the Moon and beyond, NASA plans to launch the Asteroid Redirect Mission to explore and redirect a near-Earth asteroid by the mid-2020s. This mission, and a planned return to the Moon will help NASA and its partners created the technologies needed to put a man on Mars, another “giant leap for mankind.”

FOR THE KINDLE - The History of Space Exploration: redOrbit Press