Apollo Eleven was the historic space flight that landed the first humans on the moon. Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar at surface on July twentieth 1969 at 20:18 Universal Coordinated Time or UTC. Armstrong became the first man to step onto the moon’s dusty surface six hours later on July 21 at 2:56 UTC. While spending approximately two and a half hours outside of the spacecraft, Aldrin and Armstrong collected about forty-seven pounds of lunar surface material to be studied back on earth. The mission’s third member, Michael Collins, did not land on the moons surface with his fellow astronauts. Instead he held the incredible responsibility of piloting the mission’s command module in lunar orbit. There he awaited the return of his fellow mission members Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Launched by a Saturn V Rocket from Kennedy Space Center at Merritt Island Florida on July sixteenth, Apollo Eleven was NASA’s fifth manned mission as a part of the Apollo moon exploration program. The Apollo Spacecraft was comprised of three specialized modules. The Command Module was a cabin for the three astronauts and mission monitoring center led by astronaut Michael Collins. The Service Module was the workhorse of the lunar landing phase of the mission; providing thrust, oxygen, electrical power, and water to the Command Module. Finally the Lunar Module was the Apollo Eleven hardware that actually landed on the moon.
After being sent toward the moon by the Saturn V rocket’s upper stage, the astronauts separated the spacecraft from the rocket. The astronauts travelled for three long Earth days before they were able to enter into lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin then moved from the Command Module into the Lunar Module and began their descent to the moon’s foreign surface. The two landing astronauts finally touched down on an area of the moon’s surface known as the Sea of Tranquility and spent a total of about twenty-one and one half hours there. After that time they departed the moon’s surface by detaching the upper portion of the Lunar Module from its base. They reentered lunar orbit and rejoined Michael Collins in the Command Module. The astronauts then began their return trip to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July twenty-fourth 1969.
Broadcast on live television to a worldwide audience, these events effectively ended the space race. Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and all of the Americans who contributed to the Apollo Program had fulfilled the national goal set in 1961 by president John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had declared, in a speech at 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 the earth.
Apollo Eleven’s Saturn V rocket launched at 13:32 UTC, speeding into an orbit of the Earth. The rocket and spacecraft spent about 12 minutes in orbit, completing one and a half orbits. At that time the rocket’s third stage propelled the spacecraft onto its final lunar trajectory. About thirty minutes later, the Command Module and Service Module pair separated from the Saturn’s final stage and docked with the Lunar Module, extracting it from the lunar adaptor. Finally, the three modules headed for the moon. Upon the Lunar Module’s final descent, Armstrong looked outside and saw that the flight computer’s landing target was in a boulder-strewn area, just slightly north and east of a three hundred meter diameter crater. Taking semi-automatic control, Armstrong listened as Aldrin called out velocity and altitude data. The pair successfully landed the craft at 20:17 UTC on July twentieth, with about twenty-five seconds worth of fuel to spare.
After more than twenty-one and a half total hours on the lunar surface, the astronauts had left behind several scientific instruments including a retro reflector array used for the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiments and a passive seismic experiment package used to measure moon quakes. The astronauts also left behind several mementos from Earth to commemorate their historic achievements on the moon’s surface. The tokens left behind included a specially designed American flag, an Apollo One mission patch, a golden replica of an olive branch, traditionally representing peace, and a disc containing good will messages from several American Presidents and leaders of over 73 countries around the world.
On July twenty-fourth, the astronauts returned home aboard the Command Module named Columbia. Just before dawn, 16:51 UTC, in the Pacific Ocean about 1440 nautical miles east of Wake Island and 210 nautical miles south of Johnston Atoll. The Command Module splashed down thirteen nautical miles from the recovery ship, the U.S.S. Hornet. At 16:44 UTC the module’s drogue parachutes had been deployed, this was seven minutes before the module touched the water. During its reentry and splashdown, the Command Module had ended up upside down. However, floatation bags trigger by the astronauts righted the craft within ten minutes.
In order to abide by the then recently passed Extraterrestrial Exposure Law, the astronauts were immediately placed into quarantine. Although NASA believed it was unlikely for pathogens to exist on the moon’s surface, it was considered a possibility. The astronauts were mandated to remain in quarantine for almost three weeks. After being given a clean bill of health, all three astronauts were released from quarantine on August tenth 1969.
Following their release from quarantine, the astronauts participated in parades in several major cities and attended a state dinner with members of congress, forty-four governors, the Chief Justice of the United States, and ambassadors from eighty-three nations.