Apollo 11 was the first mission to ever successfully land a man on the moon.

The Mission

The Apollo 11 mission was launched from Cape Kennedy at 1:30 PM on July 16, 1969. The takeoff was successful, and orbit was achieved. The engines were re-ignited after several hours of orbit, so the craft could accelerate towards the moon.

The astronauts began their orbital insertion approximately 76 hours after liftoff. They began by assuming an elliptical orbit around the moon, before firing the engines on the service module to assume a more circular orbit. It would be another 24 hours before the astronauts would be ready to begin descent, but this time was not wasted, as the moon was photographed extensively during the dozen odd orbits the spacecraft made while waiting to land.

After a little over four days in space (100 hours and 14 minutes to be exact), the astronauts were finally ready to descend towards the moon. The Lunar Module was separated from the Command Service Module, and thoroughly checked out before briefly firing its descent thruster (Aldrin and Armstrong rode in the Lunar Module, while Collins stayed behind in the Command Service Module). After roughly two hours of descent the descent engine was turned on again, and was burned until the landing was completed.

There was a computer malfunction during the landing, and Neil Armstrong had to land the Lunar Module by hand, while adjusting for a large crater and boulder, which required him to shift the landing zone by six kilometers.

The landing was successful, and the astronauts prepared the craft for liftoff (just in case they had to leave fast). They would not get to actually step foot outside the craft for another 7 hours (despite this fact they both skipped a scheduled sleeping period, but who would blame them).

Exactly 109 hours, 24 minutes, and 19 seconds after takeoff, Neil Armstrong descended the capsule ladder and spoke those famous first words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". A camera that had been stowed away on the capsule’s Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly recorded his first steps on the moon. One of the very first things Armstrong did was to take a sample of lunar surface material (moon rocks), just in case an emergency required an early end to activities. Buzz Aldrin joined him on the surface soon afterwards.

The two astronauts carried out all planned surface activities which included harvesting a variety of lunar samples, taking photographs, and deploying several experiments (and placing the famous moon plaque at the landing sight). They re-entered the LEM after 2 hours, slept and began preparations for ascent.

The trip home was carried out without any problems, the spacecraft only required a single course correction while en-route to earth. It re-entered the earths atmosphere at a speed of approximately 7 miles per second, and landed in the Pacific Ocean.

The Astronauts

The Apollo 11 crew consisted of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. While the backup crew consisted of James Lovell, William Anders, and Fred Haise.

Neil Armstrong was an experienced pilot (flying for the Navy from 1949 until 1952), before his long stint as a test pilot. Before the Apollo 11 mission he had commanded the Gemini VIII mission. Neil was specifically selected for this mission because of the fact that he was the only person who could successfully pilot the LEM (at least he was the only one who was any good on the LEM simulator.

Neil became a household word after the Apollo 11 mission, because he was the first human being ever to set foot on the moon. His (mildly botched), famous "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" line is known the world over.

Buzz Aldrin was another experienced pilot, having graduated third in his class at West Point Academy, before going on to fly several missions during the Korean War. But he wasn't just a pilot, after the Korean War Buzz went back to school, this time at MIT, which was where NASA discovered him. His first work at NASA was technical, but highlights of his career there included the underwater training program, and developing orbital rendezvous practices (based on material he did at MIT). He eventually became an astronaut, and co-piloted the Gemini XII mission, where he broke the record for length of time spent outside of the spacecraft (space walking).

During the Apollo 11 mission he became the second man to set foot on the moon. But he eventually left NASA and went back to the Air Force (unwilling to take a NASA public relations job). During the 1970s he wrote his autobiography, entitled" Return to Earth".

Michael Collins attended West Point, after which he joined the Air Force as a pilot. He was selected for the astronaut program in 1963, and his first mission was the Gemini X mission (where he proved himself to be very competent in extra-vehicular activities). He served as the command module pilot during the Apollo 11 mission, but did not get to walk on the moon.

After Apollo 11 Michael went on to write several books, and hold a variety of jobs in the aerospace industry.

The equipment

The Command Module "Columbia" was a gumdrop shaped space capsule that measured 10'7" in height, and 12'10" in diameter at the bottom.

It was divided into three compartments, forward, crew, and aft. It was quite cramped, as it was stuffed to the gills with reaction control engines, thrusters, controls, and recovery equipment.

This was the only section of the spacecraft to return to earth, and as of this writing it is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

The Service Module was directly attached to the command module, and contained additional equipment and controls. This module was jettisoned (as scheduled), before the end of the mission, as it was not designed to withstand re-entry.

The Lunar Module "Eagle" was an irregularly shaped device that slightly resembled a large bug. It had a whole series of thrusters, and four landing legs with round footpads. This device was specifically designed to land on the moon, and would have been useless in almost any other environment. The LEM (Lunar Module), weighed in at 15,065 kg , but this was counting the two astronauts, and almost 11,000 kg of propellants.

The module had several scientific experiments packed along, and also included a "Moon Plaque" which was attached to one of the descent ladder's legs.

The Lunar Module was jettisoned as planned, as it could never have survived the return trip to earth.

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