Apollo 11 – The Story of Mankind’s First Steps on the Moon

Apollo 11 immediately captured world imagination upon launch, drawing global interest as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin embarked upon mankind’s first steps ever on the Moon. It made history.

They disassociated Eagle from Columbia, and began exploring the Moon’s surface. Furthermore, they deployed scientific equipment and collected samples of lunar materials.


Apollo 11 was successfully launched from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with three-stage Saturn V rocket. Aboard were Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin as thousands watched from Earth as this massive three-stage rocket took flight.

After three days of flight, the crew reached the Moon. While Collins remained in orbiting Command and Service Module (CSM), Armstrong and Aldrin descended in Lunar Module Eagle to land at Sea of Tranquility as first humans to walk outside an enclosed space on another world. Millions watched their efforts live around the globe.

Armstrong and Aldrin’s two-and-a-half hour moonwalk was marked by numerous scientific experiments, photographs of terrain features, displays of an American flag on its surface as well as reading an inscription plaque, collecting samples of rock and soil and communicating with President Richard Nixon from their lunar module.

Once the astronauts had returned safely to Earth in the lander, they docked with CSM and began the return trip home. On July 24 at 12:51 p.m. they safely splashed down in Pacific Ocean as scheduled, safely making an historic comeback home to Earth.

Launch of Apollo 11 marked a turning point in the Space Race and fulfilled a national goal set forth by President John F. Kennedy: Putting man on the moon safely returned back to earth within this decade was President John F. Kennedy’s stated aim in 1961. Apollo 11 represented eight years of research and development expenditure totalling over $20 billion dollars – it cost all that money!


On July 16th 1969, NASA’s Saturn V rocket took flight at Kennedy Space Center with Neil Armstrong (b. 1930), Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (1925-2012) and Michael Collins (1930-2012). Their Apollo 11 mission would make history by becoming the first human landing on the Moon; millions watched this live launch via TV broadcasts worldwide.

The spacecraft had three parts: a command module housing astronauts; a service module to supply it with power, oxygen and water; and a lunar module designed to land on the Moon. Once it had reached orbit, its hatch opened five hours ahead of schedule – at 10:39 pm ET to be precise – and Armstrong made his journey down ladder, saying the famous words: ‘That is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Apollo 11 had reached lunar orbit eight days and 13 hours after launch. Following a series of checks and inspections, Commander Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Aldrin undocked from their Command and Service Module (CSM), entered their lunar module dubbed Eagle, and prepared for powered descent onto its surface.

As they made the 12.5-minute descent, the astronauts ran through a checklist and conducted visual inspections at their landing site. Once on the moon, they deployed scientific experiments such as seismographs for measuring moonquakes and laser rangers for measuring distances to Earth – these would stay on long after they left.

Once on the moon’s surface, Armstrong and Aldrin performed tasks that made them world heroes. They conducted surveys of its landscape and features as they explored it by surveying, photographing, taking samples of rock and soil back to Earth for later study as well as leaving behind a 1.5″ silicon disk with goodwill messages from 73 nations including members of Congress and NASA officials as well as leaving goodwill messages from them all on it for posterity.


Apollo 11 reached its climax as its commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins prepared to make their final descent to the moon’s surface from Columbia command module. Eagle, on its own journey toward its intended target of lunar surface landing began its descent with no crew aboard Columbia as Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Collins all remained aboard Columbia while Eagle began its dive towards lunar surface.

Armstrong and Aldrin performed a thorough checkup of their equipment before firing up their lunar module’s main engine for powered descent initiation (PDI). Although initially the computer-generated simulation seemed to go smoothly, Armstrong noticed a code 1201 pop up on his monitor showing too close an approach trajectory from Mars.

At 15:29, Armstrong entered Program 66 (Rate of Descent Landing or ROD phase), giving him control of the LM’s attitude. His initial move was to pitch forward so as to reduce ground speed as it passed over Little West; afterwards he pitched back as to fly over Crater West as his ultimate landing site.

Over the next several minutes, several alarms began tripping off in the control room; these did not occur so rapidly as to violate mission rules regarding when to make a “Bingo” decision: within 94 seconds either land or abort decision would need to be made by crew.

At 16:40, flight director Gene Kranz inquired of Charlie Duke, the capsule communicator (CAPCOM), whether or not he planned on calling an abort. Duke replied in the negative and responded with, “No CAPCOM.” Kranz concurred.


On July 24, the Apollo 11 crew returned home and was welcomed by millions of viewers around the world watching on television. Following splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, astronauts put on biological isolation garments (in case any microbes from the moon had made their way back home with them), boarded a rubber boat for transport back aboard USS Hornet and were later treated with iodine to reduce potential contamination before remaining quarantined until August 10.

On the following day, Armstrong and Aldrin arrived in Eagle, their lunar module nicknamed. After undocking from CSM (Command and Service Module) which had remained in orbit, they examined it thoroughly before sending their second TV transmission from space back home. Later that evening, Armstrong and Aldrin fired Eagle’s descent engine in order to change to an elliptical lunar orbit by performing what’s known as powered descent insertion – however during descent five times during descent alarms from Eagle’s computer occurred that weren’t present during simulations but NASA controllers advised them against continuing.

Armstrong and Aldrin reached the moon, which they nicknamed Tranquility. For two hours on arrival, Armstrong and Aldrin remained inside the Lunar Module (LM), inspecting its systems before venturing outside to collect samples, plant an American flag, collect samples from various areas on Tranquility, plant another American flag as a memorial, leave messages for previous astronauts who had died due to training or missions, collect samples for analysis, plant an American flag in Tranquility as an American national monument, leave behind 1.5-inch silicon disk with goodwill messages from around the globe as well as memorialization of astronauts/cosmonauts who had died due to training or missions prior missions – before starting again the process all over again!

As Armstrong directed, as they approached their landing site he ordered that its engine fire and start its descent. At 10:39 pm EDT a few hours early than scheduled the hatch opened and Armstrong descended off of his ladder; at that momentous moment he famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!”


After firing their SPS engine for a three-second midcourse correction, it was time to begin their lunar coast toward the Moon – something Neufeld termed as “the most nail-biting part of the whole flight.” Armstrong and Aldrin boarded Eagle, separated it from Columbia, and began their slow descent toward West. Near the end of this descent maneuver they encountered difficulties that they hadn’t been prepared for in simulations: computer guidance sent them toward landing in an area covered in boulders (later identified as West), when Armstrong took semi-manual control to maneuver his module away from this zone – something their simulation had failed them on!

Once Armstrong and Aldrin had reached their landing location, they left the module for their two and a half-hour moonwalk. While conducting their journey they deployed science experiments including seismographs for monitoring moonquakes, laser-ranging retroreflectors, solar wind composition experiments as well as collecting rock samples, soil samples, taking photographs of their surroundings as well as collecting rock/soil samples and taking photographs of themselves in space.

They then visited Columbia, the command module (CM) docked at the lunar surface that featured an information display and window into LM. Armstrong and Aldrin made two televised broadcasts from within Columbia directly to Earth from within it.

On April 18th, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to lunar orbit slowly by gradually ascension, checking their lunar module’s systems and performing some simple scientific tests before initiating one of three live television broadcasts from Earth via lunar orbit – to which millions of viewers responded with cheers. On broadcast two, Armstrong and Aldrin spoke with President Richard Nixon – this marked the first time ever that any US President participated in space exploration mission.

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