Apollo 11: Beyond human`s eye

Unlike the previous years, on this 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, mankind will be able to watch Neil Armstrong`s first steps on the moon.

Salome Phelamei

Unlike the previous years, on this 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, mankind will be able to watch Neil Armstrong`s first steps on the moon, recreated in real time on the web, all thanks to NASA. The 20th of July, 1969 remains unique and memorable for Armstrong and his team, and for humanity for their historic achievements in the record of science and technology, for a mission that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy`s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s.

The Mission

JFK had expressed in a speech in 1961, "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.”

It was in 1961 that Russia’s Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to orbit Earth. This was a step ahead of the US and the country needed a major project to regain national honour in the times of the Cold War.

The sanguinity of moon landing never faltered and the Apollo 11, carrying mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene `Buzz` Aldrin, Jr. was launched on July 16, 1969. The mission was the eleventh in a series of flights using Apollo flight hardware, and the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

It was the fifth human spaceflight of Project Apollo and the third human voyage to the Moon. It was also the second all-veteran crew in manned spaceflight history. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon, while Collins alone orbited above. The purpose of the mission was to perform a manned lunar landing and return safely to Earth.


The LM (lunar module) named as Eagle was the most significant structural change made to the Apollo 11 space vehicle from the Apollo 10 configuration, except a few changes.

Added were provisions for the scientific experiments package and the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA), which housed the experiments and tools used during the lunar surface activities.

The Command Service Module (CM) or Columbia, 3.63 meters long consisted of two parts. Enabling to accommodate all three astronauts, the CM served as the crew compartment and control center. It was also used for re-entry of the astronauts.

The 6.88-meter-long cylinder Service Module (SM), which was to provide the primary propulsion and maneuvering capability of the spacecraft, was placed at the rear of the CM. Most of the consumables (oxygen, hydrogen, propellant) were also stored in this module.

The Lunar Module (LM) also had two parts, the descent stage and the ascent stage. The lower part of the LM or the descent stage contained the engine used for landing on the Moon. This stage had a maximum diameter of 9.45 meters and was a cruciform structure of aluminum alloy 3.23 meters high, with its four legs extended. The lower stage interestingly had a ladder attached to one of the legs giving access to the surface to the crew and controlled storage bays for equipment.

The descent stage served as the launch platform for the ascent stage. The ascent stage was basically a cylindrical aluminum structure 4.29 meters in diameter and 3.75 meters in height. This stage served as a crucial podium to the crew during their time on the surface, as they lived in, and operated from this part of the spacecraft. After surface operations were completed, it was also used to return the crew to orbit and the CSM.

Launch, lunar landing and return

As millions gathered at the launch site to watch the momentous act of the mission on July 16, 1969, the 363-foot-tall Apollo 11 space vehicle was launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:37 a.m. local time. It was the United States ` first lunar landing mission.

The launch vehicle, AS-506, was the sixth in the Apollo Saturn V series and was the fourth manned Saturn V vehicle. However, the spacecraft was injected into the translunar phase of the mission after a 2½-hour checkout period while watching the event on television, and NASA Chief of Public Information Jack King providing commentary. At that time, President Richard Nixon also viewed the proceedings from the Oval Office of the White House.

It was on July 19 that Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. Then on July 20, 1969 the lunar module (LM) or Eagle separated from the command module or Columbia and landed in the Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis) at 4:18 p.m. ETD with about 25 seconds of fuel left.

The landing site was selected based on smoothness, approach, propellant requirements, recycle, free return and slope. "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed, said Armstrong, the first man who stepped on the moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT. As he stepped onto the surface of the moon, Armstrong described the feat as "one small step for a man - one giant leap for mankind."

At 11:15 p.m. Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface of the moon where they unveiled a plaque mounted on a strut of the LM and read to a worldwide TV audience, "Here men from the planet earth first set foot on the moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." The two astronauts, before conducting the lunar surface experiments assigned to the mission, raised the American flag and talked to President Nixon through radiotelephone. On completion of their tests, they collected 22 kilograms of samples of lunar soil and rocks and reentered the LM and closed the hatch at 1:11 a.m. July 21. All their lunar extravehicular activities were televised in black-and-white, while Collins continued orbiting moon alone in CSM Columbia. After having spent 21 hours 36 minutes on the lunar surface, the Eagle lifted off from the moon at 1:54 p.m. EDT July 21 for the trip back to earth.

On July 24, Columbia plopped down into the Pacific Ocean 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, and 18 seconds after leaving Kennedy Space Center. Then the astronauts were received by the recovery ship, USS Hornet and were immediately put in quarantine in a sealed trailer due to fear of lunar germs. President Nixon, who had flown out to the Hornet to meet them, personally welcomed the astronauts back to the Earth.

The astronauts exited quarantine on August 13, 1969 to the cheers of the American public. Following which several parades were held in their honour in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Mexico City.

Some, including Aldrin, felt it was magic how it all happened so smoothly. Looked in detail however, it is clear that a lot of scientific effort went into the mission and it acted as a beacon to all the space exploration missions that followed it. The magic was that it changed the world, for the good.


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