Apollo wasn’t always popular among the general public. Following Apollo 1’s tragic accident that claimed astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White’s lives, there was widespread public disbelief regarding both its cost and complexity of sending humans to space.
NASA was ultimately successful in fulfilling their goal of landing humans on the Moon, thanks to Armstrong and Aldrin’s sample collection efforts which continue to inspire scientific advancement even after they returned home.
How long were the Apollo missions?
Apollo spacecraft consisted of a Command Module and Lunar Module. When astronauts reached the moon, these two modules separated; with one astronaut landing on its surface while remaining in orbit with another remaining in their Command Module.
Once on the lunar surface, astronauts conducted scientific experiments as well as conducting extensive surface exploration by taking still and motion photographs of its surface and collecting samples of lunar material to bring back to Earth.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became immortalized when they made history when they set foot onto the lunar surface with Michael Collins flying the command module Columbia overhead. Armstrong famously said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, an unforgettable phrase which was broadcast around the globe – marking humanity’s first steps on another planet.
Once NASA had demonstrated through Gemini program’s one-person crews that humans could survive and work in space, NASA planned on launching three-man Apollo ships which would bring humanity to the moon – but due to Saturn V rocket delays and Apollo ship’s testing issues were becoming a growing cause for concern.
Henry heard a voice over the radio and saw pad safety workers run toward the capsule with fire extinguishers to extinguish what had already become a fire, but too late; fire had consumed its pure oxygen atmosphere and all astronauts had perished. Downstairs, technician Gary Propst saw White trying to open his hatch but only had seconds before being trapped by cabin pressure.
At the height of the Cold War, America placed great value in ensuring its astronauts reached as close to the Moon as possible, leading NASA to prioritize short, fast-paced missions over long and drawn-out projects focused on research or technological development.
On their EVA mission, Armstrong and Aldrin conducted scientific experiments and collected samples of lunar surface material. They spent two and a half hours at work before returning to Eagle and joining Collins back onboard the CSM.
Lowry’s safety board reviews and other steps put the Apollo program on a temporary halt until Apollo 3. On this mission, NASA unveiled their Block II CSM capsule which docked with Lunar Module and formed a tunnel between them; also featured was their first reusable lunar landing vehicle – this version being stored away by Chuck Lowry as part of his personal collection.
James Lovell and Frank Borman became the first humans to leave low-Earth orbit in Apollo 8, flying an accelerated mission to demonstrate American technological superiority over Soviet competitors. Their trip included taking the iconic Earthrise photo showing blue-white Earth rising over its blue-white moon; collecting lunar samples; as well as deploying various experiments including solar wind composition experiments, seismic experiment packages and laser ranging retroreflectors.
On January 27, 1967, an Apollo 1 crew module fire killed astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee – an unforgivable reminder of the risks inherent to spaceflight and of prioritizing schedule over safety. Their deaths led to changes to the program which allowed its eventual success; three engraved granite benches now stand as memorials at its launch pad in their honor.
Apollo 4 marked NASA’s inaugural test flight of its massive Saturn V rocket on November 9, 1967. Launched unmanned, it proved the system’s ability to fly with both command module and lunar module attached, as well as providing engineers with insight into how well its heat shield performed in space.
Apollo 1 was an historic mission, intended to mark humanity’s first visit to the moon, yet an unfortunate fire at preflight test killed three astronauts aboard their Apollo 1 capsule in January 1967 changed everything.
NASA soon set its work in motion, and by 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history – walking on the moon’s surface and leaving their indelible boot prints behind them for posterity. But this process had taken eight years, 10 practice runs missions, and millions in expenditure to reach fruition.
NASA completed their preparation of the first lunar landing successfully after eight years and 10 practice-run missions and spending approximately $28 billion. Their success can be credited to an immense team of engineers, scientists and technicians working behind the scenes.
On January 22, 1968, Saturn IB successfully lifted off into an orbit 163 by 222 kilometers. Two orbits later, Lunar Module (LM) attempted a 39 second descent engine burn but only managed four seconds because its guidance computer failed too slowly allowing for descent of spacecraft.
Soon Commander Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Aldrin were ready for their inaugural lunar walk, watched by an estimated 650 million viewers worldwide. Armstrong took his first step onto the lunar surface and declared: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” Throughout their stay on the Moon they collected samples, deployed television cameras and seismometers, as well as placing laser reflectors.
NASA was confident that after Apollo 4 demonstrated the Saturn V could take astronauts to lunar distances, they were ready for another manned mission which would culminate in landing astronauts on the Moon, an idea which had seemed unlikely just a few years earlier.
Apollo 6 crew, led by Commander Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise, made their maiden voyage into space aboard Apollo 6, landing in Fra Mauro region of Moon and installing lunar surface television camera and seismic experiment package.
After their two-and-a-half hour EVA, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the Eagle and collected samples from the lunar surface before installing solar wind composition experiments, seismological experiments package and laser ranging retroreflector. Their mission lasted 14 days 1 hour 51 minutes; until it was outdone by Apollo 13 which is famous for its near disaster saga depicted in “Apollo 13.”
An Apollo space flight had an immense challenge ahead of it when they attempted to land on the moon in 1969. Astronauts who participated needed exceptional stamina as they collected rocks from its surface and sent them back home for study by scientists here on Earth.
NASA began planning for Apollo missions with their Mercury and Gemini programs, sending one-person crews into orbit to test whether humans could survive and operate in space. While these tests demonstrated this to be possible, they also confirmed that larger Saturn V rockets needed to be modified so as to accommodate three astronauts per mission.
Armstrong and Aldrin’s mission to the moon lasted 21 days. At its conclusion, Armstrong and Aldrin docked Eagle with Columbia in lunar orbit without incident – something Armstrong had accomplished previously with Gemini 8.
Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell didn’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve 1968 with images of sugar plums dancing through their minds – instead they anxiously anticipated whether their engines would work properly enough to bring them home safely.
They weren’t heading directly for the moon, but their mission was still far out in space: testing Eagle, their lunar module.
But their most memorable moment occurred after they dismounted Eagle and began orbiting Earth, when Anders took his iconic “Earthrise” photograph that gave us all a new understanding of our home planet. There had initially been 20 planned Apollo missions planned; however, once the lunar landing had taken place research and technology-related goals lost prominence and the program was eventually cancelled in 1970.
Apollo 9 was the first mission to send astronauts all the way to the moon, although they did not land directly on its surface. Instead, their crew circled it instead and took photographs from afar – including what has become iconically known as Earthrise that has since inspired environmental movements around the world.
After their EVA, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the LM, disembarked from their damaged CM, and moved into the Eagle. Soon thereafter – at 131 hours and 3 minutes into their mission – Armstrong and Aldrin broadcast another television transmission back home.
NASA completed this mission as its final trip to the moon for human travel, moving on to deep space missions of other planets within our solar system, which required much longer flights with more fuel needed; modern spacecraft have much larger battery capacities that can save fuel by traveling slowly.