APOLLO 11 - First Moon Landing. July 16 - 24, 1969.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. This photo was taken by Neil Armstrong.
The reflection of Armstrong and the Lunar Module are visible on Aldrin's visor.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

John F. Kennedy had been inaugurated as president of the United States in January 1961. He faced an early embarrassment over the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. Afterwards, he needed some tangible victory to deflect attention away from this fiasco and to also show America's superiority over the Soviet Union.

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy gave a speech to 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 earth."

Congress funded Kennedy's goal.


The Apollo 11 astronauts were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Armstrong was the commander.

They named their Command Module, "Columbia;" and their Lunar Module, "Eagle."


The Saturn V rocket was used as a booster for the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Wernher von Braun led the NASA team which developed the Saturn rocket.

The total height of the Apollo-Saturn V rocket was 363 feet, at launch.


The Apollo 11 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday, July 16, 1969.

It accelerated to a speed of 25,000 miles per hour in order to "escape" the Earth's gravity.

The Apollo 11 spacecraft then separated into the Lunar Module and the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the Moon's surface in the Lunar Module. Michael Collins remained in the Command Module.


The Apollo 11 Lunar Module landed in the southern portion of the Sea of Tranquility. The initial site was chosen from telescopic and lunar orbit photography. It was called Site 2 by the U.S. Geological Survey's Center of Astrogeology.

The Lunar Module overshot this site due to a slight navigational error and a faster than intended descent speed. Furthermore, Neil Armstrong had to maneuver the Lunar Module to avoid landing in craters or impacting against

During descent, the low-fuel light came on in the Lunar Module, causing mission controllers to nearly panic. Mission controllers estimated that there were somewhere between 13 and 20 seconds of fuel left when the lunar module finally landed.

Don Lind was one of the mission controllers and later a shuttle astronaut. He wrote in his own book that, "...when the fuel stopped sloshing around in the tank and we could read the gauges more accurately, there were really 42 seconds of fuel left......." Nevertheless, Lind goes on to praise Armstrong's ability to perform so well under those trying conditions.


Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. He did this on July 20, 1969. As he stepped down onto the lunar surface, he said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Buzz Aldrin accompanied Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface. Aldrin described the Moon as: "Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation."


Armstrong and Aldrin collected 40 pounds of Moon rocks, erected an American flag, and set up a seismometer to measure "moonquakes."

Geologists studied these moon rock samples after the mission. The geologists determined that the Moon is composed largely of igneous rock, which is formed from a molten state.

Furthermore, the rocks on the Moon's surface have also been smashed by impacts with meteorites, and the fragments are sometimes welded together by lava. Breccias are composite rocks formed from all other rock types through crushing, mixing, and sintering during meteorite impacts. The fine dust resulting from these impacts is called regolith.


Note that the gravitational acceleration on the Moon is only 1/6 G. On the Earth, gravity is 1 G. Aldrin noted that his weight was much less on the Moon but that his mass was the same. Thus he was able to hop and skip about
the Moon with relative ease, but stopping took some effort.


Here is the Apollo 11 mission timeline:

Liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida:
Wednesday, July 16, 1969, 8:32:00 a.m. EST

Lunar Module touches down on the Moon:
Sunday, July 20, 1969, 3:17:40 p.m. EST

Neil Armstrong begins extravehicular activity
(exits Lunar Module and begins slow climb down ladder):
Sunday, July 20, 1969, 9:39:33 p.m. EST

Neil Armstrong steps down on lunar surface:
Sunday, July 20, 1969, 9:56:15 p.m. EST

End of lunar extravehicular activity (Moon walk):
Monday, July 21, 1969, 12:11:13 a.m. EST

Apollo 11 Command Module splashes down in Pacific Ocean:
July 24, 1969, 11:50:53 a.m. EST

(Timeline Reference: NASA SP-4012 NASA Historic Data Book Volume II)


The recovery ship was the USS Hornet.

The three Apollo 11 astronauts were kept in the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) until August 10. During this time, doctors examined the astronauts to determine whether they had brought back any germs from the Moon.


The backup crew were James A. Lovell, commander; William A. Anders, command module pilot; and Fred W. Haise, lunar module pilot. These three astronauts later flew on the Apollo 13 mission.


The purpose of sending astronauts to the Moon was to achieve a "political goal," namely proving to the world that the U.S. was superior to the Soviet Union. Science and engineering objectives were less important.

Americans have a short attention span. The Viet Nam war, Watergate, Arab Oil Embargo, urban unrest, and other issues soon rendered the U.S. space program as a low priority. Apollo 17 became the last lunar mission, in December 1972.

The U.S. thus won the "Space Race." The "Cold War," however, continued until the breakup of the Soviet Union, about twenty years later.



1. Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell, Men from Earth, Bantam, New York, 1989.
2. Michael Collins, Liftoff, Grove Press, New York, 1988.

 Books and Videos about the Space Race

The Right Stuff - This film is based on Tom Wolfe's book. It begin's with the story of the Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. It then gives an historical drama about the Mercury space program.

The Dish - Historical drama-comedy about the town of Parkes in New South Wales, Australia. A 1,000-ton radio observatory dish is built in Parkes to relay telemetry, voice, and television signals from the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

A Man on the Moon : The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

Apollo 13 - Astronaut's Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise make an heroic return to Earth after an internal explosion cripples their Apollo 13 service module. - Starring Tom Hanks. Directed by Ron Howard.

October Sky - Homer H. Hickam Jr. and his friends build and launch models rockets in a West Virginia coal mining town in response to the launch of Sputnik. Based on a true story.

The Rocket Men : Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Space Flights - History of the Soviet space program.

Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine

Books and Videos about the Cold War

Atomic Cafe - Director Jayne Loader used government film clips in an expose of the madness and propaganda of the "Duck and Cover" era.

Thirteen Days - Historical drama about President's Kennedy's response to the Cuban missile crisis - Starring Kevin Costner.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. - Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickins. Peter Sellers excels in three fine roles--as the Nazi braintrust Dr. Strangelove, as President Merkin Muffley, and RAF officer Lionel Mandrake.

The Russians are Coming - Popular comedy about a Russian submarine that lands off New England coast. Starring Alan Arkin, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner, Brian Keith, and Jonathan Winters.

The Manchurian Candidate - Suspenseful political thriller about a Korean war hero's decoration and his mother's machinations to promote her Joseph McCarthy-like husband's career. Starring Angela Lansbury, and Frank Sinatra.

The Iron Giant - As Sputnik orbits the Earth, Hogarth, a young boy who lives in the Maine woods during the cold war, befriends a giant robot.

WarGames - Teenage computer whiz hacks into a computer system looking for games. He inadvertently causes the system to begin countdown for thermonuclear missile strikes against the Soviet Union. Starring Matthew Broderick.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - A flying saucer lands at Washington D.C.An alien named Klaatu and his robot Gort emerge from the saucer. Klaatu warns the people that the Earth will be destroyed if they continue nuclear warfare. The film is very suspenseful. Some critics regard it as the greatest science fiction film ever made despite its lack of special effects.


Please send comments and questions to Tom Irvine at: tomirvine@aol.com

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