July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind

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It happened 48 years ago: A look back at the Apollo 11 moon landing

July 1969. It’s a little over eight years since the flights of Gagarin and Shepard, followed quickly by President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out.

https://youtu.be/hxPbnFc7iU8Video can’t be loaded: Apollo 11 Moonwalk Montage (https://youtu.be/hxPbnFc7iU8)

It is only seven months since NASA’s made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

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Crater 308 stands out in sharp relief in this photo from lunar orbit. Click image to enlarge.
Credits: NASA

It is only seven months since NASA’s made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

Now, on the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.

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Buzz Aldrin climbs down the Eagle’s ladder to the surface. Click image to enlarge.
Credits: NASA

At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit.

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Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module. This is one of the few photos that show Armstrong during the moonwalk. Click image to enlarge.
Credits: NASA

After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” – in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia. (View Flash Feature by clicking here.)

Collins later writes that Eagle is “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it will prove its worth.

When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer is sounding alarms.

It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, “unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”

When the lunar module lands at 4:18 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.” (Listen to the audio by clicking here.)

Armstrong will later confirm that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”

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