Thirty-two years ago yesterday, human beings landed on the Moon for the first
time in history.
The first manned journey to the Moon began at Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy
Space Center, Florida with the lift-off of Apollo XI at 9:32 a.m. EDT on a clear
and sunny Wednesday 16th July 1969.
The crew of Apollo XI was Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module pilot
Michael Collins and Lunar Module pilot Edwin E Aldrin, Jr.
The Apollo spacecraft reached Earth parking orbit after 11 minutes. After one
and half orbits the Saturn thrusts fired and the astronauts began their journey
to the Moon.
After a four-day trip, the Apollo astronauts arrived at the Moon. At 01:47
p.m. EDT on 20th July 1969, the Lunar Module "Eagle" carrying Neil
Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin separated from the Command Module "Columbia".
Michael Collins, aboard the CM, took pictures of the LM as it prepared for its
descent to the lunar surface.
"You cats take it easy on the lunar surface", Collins said as he
released the LM. Collins did a visual inspection of the lunar module and said:
"I think you've got a fine looking machine there, Eagle, despite the fact
that you're upside-down." "Somebody's upside-down", Armstrong
Over the next day, Michael Collins would orbit the Moon while his colleagues
walked on its surface.
"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed." These words
ushered in a new era of human exploration at 4:18 p.m. EDT, as the first manned
flight to the Moon touched down after flying longer than planned, down to the
last 40 seconds of fuel, to avoid a field of boulders and a large crater.
Charles Duke, the Capcom (capsule communicator) back in Houston, replied: "Roger
Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn
blue. We're breathing again."
US Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin landed lunar module Eagle, while
Michael Collins piloted Apollo XI to monitor the landing. At 10:56 p.m. EDT,
Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. Armstrong said
at the time: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".
Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface less than fifteen minutes later, calling
it: "Magnificent desolation". As he left the LM, Aldrin said: "Now
I want to partially close the hatch, making sure not to lock it on my way out."
"A particular good thought." laughed Armstrong. Asked later on why
they bothered closing the hatch. Armstrong said it was to avoid having someone
ask: "Were you born in a barn?"
The astronauts removed a sheet of stainless steel to unveil the plaque affixed
to the lunar module leg under the descent ladder and read to the television
audience: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon,
July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind." Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin
and President Richard Nixon signed it.
The footprints left by the astronauts in the Sea of Tranquillity are more permanent
than many solid structures on Earth. Barring a chance meteorite impact, these
impressions in the lunar soil will probably last for millions of years.
In the few hours that Aldrin and Armstrong were on the Moon, there was little
time to set up scientific experiments, but a small package (the EASEP, or Early
Apollo Scientific Experiments Package) was deployed.
Millions of Earthlings watched the drama unfold on television images taken
by black and white lunar surface cameras. President Richard Nixon spoke to Armstrong
and Aldrin by radio telephone from the White House: "Hello, Neil and Buzz.
I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, and this
certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. Because of what
you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world." Armstrong
replied: "Thank you, Mr President. It's a great honour and privilege for
us to be here representing not only the United States but men of peace of all
nations, and with interest and curiosity and with the vision for the future."
Neil Armstrong took a picture of Edwin Aldrin, showing a reflection in Aldrin's
visor of Armstrong and the Lunar Module. This was one of the only photographs
showing Armstrong, who carried the camera, on the Moon. Aldrin said: "My
fault, perhaps, but we had never simulated this in training."
Aldrin posed for a picture next to the U.S. flag. The rod to hold the flag
out horizontally would not extend fully, so the flag ended up with a slight
waviness, giving the appearance of being windblown. The flag itself was difficult
to erect, it was very hard to penetrate beyond about 6 to 8 inches into the
lunar soil and it was actually knocked over when the LM rook off from the Moon
21 hours after landing.
The astronauts returned to the Lunar Module after 2 hours and 32 minutes on
the surface (2 hours 15 minutes for Aldrin). After lifting off from the lunar
surface, the LM made its rendezvous with the Command Module. The Eagle docked
with the Command Module, and the lunar samples were brought aboard. The LM was
left behind in lunar orbit while the 3 astronauts returned in the Columbia to
The final phase of the Kennedy Space Center challenge was completed at 12:50
p.m. EDT on 24th July 1969, when the Columbia splashed down about 812 nautical
miles Southwest of Hawaii, returning the 3 astronauts safely to Earth.
The returning US astronauts were wearing biological isolation garments, awaiting
helicopter pickup by the US Navy frogmen and then transported in a life raft
to the U.S.S. Hornet.
Imminent: The day before splashdown, Aldrin said, "We feel this stands
as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown."