The Apollo 11 Journey

apollo 11 journey

Three grown men lived for 21 days in an enclosed space smaller than an average bedroom, eating freeze-dried food, sleeping in bunks made from bamboo mats and tracking their progress using tools that would have been familiar to sailors hundreds of years earlier.

On 20 July Armstrong and Aldrin left Columbia and entered their lunar module Eagle before initiating their controlled descent toward the Moon’s surface.

The Launch

Before its 50th anniversary, this documentary gives you a peek inside America’s most celebrated space journey. A spectacular mix of vintage images and restored footage provides an experience that begs for big screen viewing; The Vehicle Assembly Building, Crawler-Transporter and Saturn V rocket still inspire as they did on July 16, 1969.

At that precise moment in history, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins of Apollo 11’s crew – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins–were poised to pull off something unthinkable–an achievement of epic proportions that represented the culmination of years-long “space race” between United States and Soviet Union.

Beginning with Columbia’s “powered ascent”, once off its launchpad a second stage ignited and burned for six minutes bringing her up to 175 kilometers and near orbital velocity before the third stage started its six minute burn and sent astronauts on their journey toward the Moon.

After two days in orbit, the astronauts were ready to launch. First, however, they completed a comprehensive checklist to make sure their craft would be fit for landing before engaging a dramatic maneuver known as lunar orbit insertion; this involved retrograde firing of the service module’s (orbiting) engine to place both command module and lunar module docked together into an initial lunar orbit of 69 by 190 miles.

Armstrong and Aldrin were confident they would reach the Moon despite warnings blaring inside their cramped cabin, yet as they prepared to lower Eagle’s parachutes it soon became clear their computer-generated flight plan was taking them towards an area filled with boulders instead of reaching its goal – the Moon itself.

Armstrong and Aldrin had to rely on instinct as they maneuvered the LM into an alternative landing zone on the lunar surface, using TV cameras to record historic steps onto its surface – with Armstrong famously proclaiming: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!”

After three hours on the Moon, they returned to the LM and docked with the CSM that would take them back home. A perilous final reentry saw their capsule descend at an extremely shallow angle before entering a breathless communication blackout; but ultimately it was successful, leaving both astronauts with pride for having accomplished such an historic journey.

The Orbit

Armstrong and Aldrin board the lunar module (LM), called Eagle, before beginning their computer-controlled landing approach. Although initially intended to land on a safe flat area surveyed from orbit, due to an oversight in accounting for small errors the computer directed them instead towards West Crater where Armstrong took semi-manual control to maneuver away from it through slow but deliberate movements.

Even after this setback, the crew remains determined to complete its list of daily tasks – such as taking photos and collecting rock samples – along with various scientific experiments designed either to remain on the Moon after they leave or be returned safely back home.

After enjoying their snack, the astronauts started preparations for their descent to the surface. First they must fire the Lunar Module’s Service Propulsion System or SPS engine in order to lower its orbit and enter lunar orbit – an operation known as Lunar Orbit Insertion that went smoothly.

Mission Control then asked them to evaluate the SPS’s inertial reference system, designed to assist astronauts with controlling the LM as it approached the surface, by providing data about its velocity and direction that would assist their landing efforts. They used this instrument’s data as input into their primary guidance and navigation system – less sophisticated than today’s spacecraft computers but nonetheless highly capable.

Armstrong and Aldrin began to descend the ladder of the LM, gazing out its triangular windows at the lunar landscape below them. Once on the surface, Armstrong used his manual reaction control system to ensure a safe landing spot by manually maneuvering his ship manually through various rock-strewn craters until he eventually located an appropriate one where he cut off its engine and took possession.

Armstrong and Aldrin began exploring as soon as they stepped foot on the moon, taking photographs and recording their impressions of this strange and new environment. Additionally, they collected rock samples, deployed scientific experiments – some which will remain on the lunar surface after they left – collected rock and soil samples as well as deployed many scientific experiments that will remain long after their departure from it.

The Docking

At approximately 109 hours and 42 minutes into their mission, Armstrong and Aldrin descended the Lunar Module’s ladder. A TV camera deployed automatically from the LM and automatically broadcast Armstrong’s first steps onto the Moon as he announced “That is one small step for man, one giant leap for humanity!”

Though the Moon surface was littered with rocks, astronauts managed to successfully complete their tasks in two hours. They collected rock samples and soil specimens as well as conducting scientific experiments — such as seismometer for measuring moonquakes or laser retroreflector for precise distance measurements between Earth and Moon – as well as leaving commemorative coins from 73 countries as well as silicon disks containing messages from 74 congressional leaders behind.

When looking at their landing site, astronauts were shocked to see they were in an obstacle-filled crater with only 30 seconds worth of landing engine fuel remaining. Luckily, thanks to computer algorithms they were able to alter course and land safely on more flat land.

Armstrong called Mission Control multiple times while on the descent, providing updates as the lander passed through lunar atmosphere and reported its altitude, which seemed lower than indicated by Primary Guidance and Navigation System (PGNS). Aldrin kept reading out its rate of descent by degrees and feet per second.

On the last leg of its descent, the Lunar Module began to bounce as it touched down on the lunar surface – this could cause its astronauts to lose their sense of balance and fall onto their backs. Luckily, their landing went smoothly and were soon picked up by their CSM; three and a half hours later they had reached lunar orbit with Armstrong ready to board his ascent stage and rejoin Collins and their command module for ascent stage activation.

The Landing

On July 20, Eagle separated from Columbia and Armstrong and Aldrin took their first steps onto the Moon by climbing down its ladder – marking an achievement which had long been an American goal. Armstrong reported back to Mission Control: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind!”

On the lunar surface, astronauts used instruments familiar to sailors hundreds of years earlier for taking photos and checking their position using instruments known as sextants – making use of this virtual compass was key in landing successfully on the Moon’s surface. Furthermore, the lunar module computer assisted with guidance during landing with accelerometers sensing any changes in attitude changes within their spacecraft and readings from Lunar Orbiter Camera being read back for exact location on its surface. Finally, sextants provided measurements for measuring angle of descent.

Armstrong and Aldrin faced numerous last-minute obstacles when landing on the moon. Computer alarms they hadn’t seen before led them to reach out for guidance from Mission Control; however, flight controllers assured them that everything would proceed according to plan.

As the LM approached the Moon, it entered a low-altitude descending orbit known as a “high gate.” This maneuver allowed astronauts to slow the landing spacecraft down without becoming trapped by gravitational pull of the Moon; engine fire-off was required briefly in order to complete this step.

Five times during their descent, the LM’s computer activated warning codes; however, NASA simulations had shown that Armstrong and Aldrin could successfully land the craft despite these alerts. Careful attention was paid to monitoring altitude and velocity levels on board while Armstrong assumed manual control for their descent when computer data indicated they were nearing West Crater crater.

Armstrong started firing up the descent engines as soon as the LM was within 100 feet of landing on the lunar surface, and then released the brakes, slowly lowering it onto its intended landing spot. Armstrong and Aldrin looked out their triangular windows to take in views of the lunar terrain as soon as they touched down.

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