Engineers, technicians and factory workers like Gerald Blackburn had to solve numerous challenges to reach the moon. Engineers, technicians and factory workers all played a crucial role in making sure every piece worked – right down to nuts and bolts!
An enormous Saturn V rocket successfully delivered a 50-ton spacecraft into lunar orbit. It included the command module (CM), carrying three astronauts. Attached to this CM was a smaller lunar module (LM).
The Apollo spacecraft
The Apollo spacecraft was the third NASA-designed capsule designed to expand human knowledge and prove America’s technological superiority over Soviet Russia. Specifically, its purpose was to transport astronauts from Earth orbit to lunar orbit and back. Comprised of three modules (command module with crew quarters and flight control; service module providing propulsion and support systems; lunar module which carried two astronauts onto the lunar surface before returning them safely back into lunar orbit), these spacecraft carried astronauts for approximately 24 days each way before returning them back into Earth orbit via lunar orbiting back into Earth orbit – just 24 hours round trip!
Apollo spacecraft had more room than earlier Mercury and Gemini missions for three astronauts to fit inside, along with a Lunar Roving Vehicle for exploration of lunar surface terrain and sample collection for later return back to Earth. Apollo was launched from three-stage Saturn V rocket.
On Dec. 21, 1968 aboard Apollo 8 mission, three astronauts first left low Earth orbit and circled the moon for the first time ever in history. Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders were the first people ever to witness how our planet looked from space – their historic achievement being immortalized with an iconic photograph known as Earthrise which has since been reproduced on posters, US postage stamps and Time magazine covers over time.
Apollo 9 spent 10 days orbiting Earth with astronauts James McDivitt, David Scott and Russell “Rusty” Schweickart on board to test docking procedures between their command module (CM) and Lunar Module (LM).
On July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set off from Cape Kennedy on their historic Apollo 11 mission. As Neil stood atop the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility to deliver his famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, this image moved millions around the globe to tears. It will remain remembered forever.
Armstrong and Aldrin then boarded Columbia, their command module, shortly after starting their powered descent from the Moon’s surface. Armstrong fired an engine which would propel his craft into lunar orbit a few hours after beginning their powered descent from it.
The command module
When viewing images of an Apollo rocket, what draws your attention are its pointed tip and fire from five gigantic engines in its first stage. But you might miss something else–a gumdrop-shaped command module sitting below, which was designed to transport astronauts along with clothing, sleeping bags, food supplies and systems needed for roundtrip voyages to and from Earth to Moon and back again.
Internally, the CM was very spacious compared to Mercury and Gemini capsules, boasting couches for astronauts to lounge on while relaxing, an easily-reachable main instrument panel, as well as all of their needs for missions on Earth or the Moon. Furthermore, two toilets could accommodate each astronaut onboard for maximum capacity – plus it could carry six crew members total!
After launch, the command module separated from the Service Module and headed toward lunar orbit on its own. When they arrived there, astronauts boarded Lunar Module via tunnel docking process – known as lunar orbit insertion. Docking went smoothly as Lunar Module prepared its descent toward moon’s surface. Meanwhile, crew of three then returned to CSM while it prepared its return journey home via descent channel.
The Lunar Module (LM) was equipped with solar arrays that provided power to its systems, four maneuvering thruster quads for maneuvering around the moon, and a lander boom arm for collecting samples of lunar surface samples. In addition, astronauts used it as their living space while it was on its surface; sleeping aboard overnight. Attached to its respective Command Module by tension ties and compression pads before leaving its lunar orbit for reentry, its cables would connect it back with its respective LM when necessary before being disconnected before reentry.
The astronauts stayed aboard the LM for 12 days, taking samples and images of the moon during this mission. Once on its surface, Armstrong and Aldrin disembarked from a ladder onto its surface – prompting Armstrong to declare: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!”
The service module
Apollo spacecraft provided astronauts with an accommodation where they would stay during most of their mission: The Command Module. Equipped with three couches for three men, and featuring an instrument panel within arm’s reach of these couches as well as computing and navigation systems that would guide them from Earth to Moon and back again, its dimensions measured 12 feet 10 inches with 12250 pounds at launch; its unique body shape allowed for smooth reentry through Earth’s atmosphere.
Once in lunar orbit, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin used a tunnel to enter their lunar module for their descent towards its surface. Equipped with two omnidirectional antennas as well as one high gain S band antenna for communications purposes during lunar surface operations, their lunar module (LM) featured two omnidirectional antennas as well as a high gain S band antenna to enable communication with ground control during operations on its surface.
During lunar surface operations, the LM was used as a backup source of power and oxygen for its companion vehicle (CM), as well as providing an easy means of returning back into orbit for reentry back into CM. Equipped with rear-facing thrusters capable of counteracting aerobraking – sudden deceleration caused by air resistance as the spacecraft dives through atmosphere -, the LM had several uses beyond being an emergency backup power supply.
The Lunar Module also carried two reaction control engines for propulsion during lunar landing and midcourse corrections between Earth and Moon, as well as its main display console with switches, dials, meters and circuit breakers to monitor performance – this console measured seven feet wide by three feet tall! Lockers along its walls stored food, water and clothes.
The LM was attached to the CM using tension ties that extended from its heat shield and were connected to compression pads on top of SM by six tension ties, held in place using 2.5 inch wide and 4 inch long stainless steel straps bolted on either end by bolts bolted onto either CM end bolted at both ends across its entire width and bolted on either end bolted onto each side by bolts of 4 inches long straps, stretched across its entire width, held tight against it by stainless steel straps 2.5 inches wide and 4 inches long fastened bolted onto both ends before stretching across its width before disconnection was severed prior to reentry; when time came for its return journey homeward bound, umbilical connection was severed just prior to reentry, leaving its cargo freed into Earth’s atmosphere where it burned away before leaving its homebound cargo behind in space.
The lunar module
The Lunar Module, or LM, was the centerpiece of Apollo spacecraft. It enabled astronauts to land on the Moon and take them back home again, using switches, buttons and joysticks that controlled gears that lowered it onto its surface.
NASA decided to build the Lunar Module after opting for Lunar Orbit Rendezvous over direct ascent or Earth Orbit Rendezvous methods, which would have required landing an even larger and heavier spacecraft on the lunar surface. The LM contained all navigation, control, life support systems necessary for landing on the moon, as well as storage lockers to collect samples of Moon rock samples.
Once docked with the command module, Armstrong and Aldrin in their Lunar Module began their two-hour journey towards its surface. Armstrong performed his long Moonwalk that lasted around two hours during this journey.
Once the LM was near enough to begin landing, its pilot initiated powered descent initiation by firing its engine for 30 seconds of “powered descent initiation,” which reduced speed until it came within 50,000 feet of landing on the Moon’s surface. Astronauts then had to maneuver it carefully so as to avoid landing in an impenetrable crater full of boulders.
Once they had completed maneuvering, the astronauts re-established communications with Mission Control and performed one last check of their controls. When satisfied that the LM was on track for its intended landing site on the Moon, they started its descent engine for another 30 second burn to reduce speed before initiating its slow, gentle descent toward Earth’s surface.
Simultaneously, a computer was controlling the landing based on an algorithm designed to minimize weighted combinations of time and fuel use – no easy feat!
Ten Lunar Modules were constructed for Apollo missions; unfortunately none made it back home; they either crashed into the Moon, burned up in its atmosphere (Apollo 13), or are still orbiting perpetually around our Sun (Apollo 10). One LM remains on display at The Museum of Flight along with its counterpart – Command and Service Module (CSM).