President Kennedy pledged that by the end of this decade, one person would land on the moon through Apollo missions. This timeline charts their history.
On 20 July, Armstrong and Aldrin prepared for their lunar landing by unhinging Eagle from Collins’ command module and docking it to their lunar module Eagle.
President John F. Kennedy issued an ambitious vow in 1961: landing humans on the Moon by the end of this decade. Despite numerous hurdles and setbacks, NASA’s Apollo space program ultimately fulfilled this commitment and opened up new frontiers of exploration across space and time.
Apollo 1 began in February 1967 aboard an AS-204 spacecraft. Astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee had been veterans of Mercury and Gemini programs before all three perished when an oxygen explosion ignited during rehearsal of command module docking with lunar module docking sequence. All three astronauts perished instantly.
NASA managers, led by Apollo program director Joe Shea, were determined that this tragedy would not derail their Moon effort, so they expedited its timeline. Shea and his team faced numerous problems that caused a delay – such as electrical wiring being exposed to extreme temperatures or being packed tightly together and filled with high-pressure pure oxygen in their command module.
Apollo 2, officially designated AS-502 and internally known as the Block II CSM test flight, was NASA’s inaugural Saturn V spacecraft to undergo a manned mission. Composed of John Young and Charles Duke as astronauts, its crew made landfall in Descartes Highlands searching for volcanic rocks that would enhance scientists’ understanding of our Moon.
On that same landing, for the first time ever, the Lunar Roving Vehicle or “moon buggy,” operated by its crew members was used. This enabled them to travel further than ever before on one lunar surface EVA.
Apollo 8, the next Apollo mission, marked a breakthrough when it successfully left low Earth orbit for the first time and sent astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and John Swigert on an orbit around the Moon without landing. Along their journey they recovered parts from Surveyor 3, an autonomous robot probe which had been on the Moon for two years; also retrieving parts from Surveyor 3, as well as deploying an experiment package containing seismometers.
NASA became increasingly cautious following the Apollo 1 fire, forcing them to reconsider how risky it needed to be to achieve their moon landing goal. They decided to rearrange their missions and switch from using unmanned models for lunar flights to using Block II CSMs as lunar aircraft instead.
Apollo 13 astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and John Swigert came within hours of death 56 hours into their mission when an oxygen tank ruptured inside the service module of their spacecraft and severely disabled it. To save themselves and return safely home they escaped into their lunar module (LM), using it as a lifeboat to circle the moon before returning safely back home to Earth.
Apollo 14 astronauts John Young, Charles Duke and Thomas Mattingly landed on the lunar highlands the next month to explore its geological features. Utilizing their lunar rover they drove 16 miles during three moonwalks while collecting over 209 pounds of samples.
NASA quickly moved forward after the tragic Apollo 1 launch pad accident that claimed astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee’s lives by initiating preparations for Apollo 4. This mission would test out Saturn V rocket technology as well as make progress toward meeting Apollo program’s primary goal – landing astronauts safely on the Moon before the decade ended.
On November 9, 1967, astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin made history when they launched aboard Apollo 4, a test version of Saturn V rocket. Instead of travelling towards the Moon, however, this crew spent 11 days testing various components of their Command-Service Module rather than heading directly for it.
During their mission, astronauts took photographs that have since become iconic images, such as “Earthrise,” which helped spur an environmental movement. Furthermore, they recovered parts for Surveyor 3 robot probe and conducted two spacewalks during this time.
NASA was working towards its goal of sending humans to the moon with Apollo 5. By then, their Saturn V rocket had already completed 10 low-Earth orbit tests with astronauts James McDivitt, Russell Schweickart and Alan Bean as crew.
On 22 July 1969 Armstrong and Aldrin launched into space aboard the Lunar Module (“Eagle”) to explore the lunar surface. They performed one moonwalk of two and half hours duration during which time they took photographs of their surroundings while conducting scientific experiments like seismograph measurement of “moonquakes” as well as laser ranging retroreflector measurement to pinpoint exactly how far away the moon was from Earth.
Once back inside the LM, they fired its ascent engine for 38 seconds to enter lunar orbit – known as “Firing-in-the-Hole”, as this gave LM-1 an escape trajectory should any problems arise during Powered Descent. Later on, they docked with Collins in CSM before jettisoning Lunar Module.
Saturn V had finally taken flight, and Apollo spacecraft were now prepared for testing in space. While Saturn V flight test would become the primary objective for subsequent uncrewed missions, Apollo 6 was designed to prove that Lunar Module (LM) could be successfully launched into lunar orbit and returned safely back home.
The primary objective was to use the SM engine to simulate an abort during a translunar injection (TLI) burn by lowering its high point in orbit. Once accomplished, SPS engines fired to increase reentry speed before 10 hours later the Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
This mission was especially notable as it took place shortly after a tragic fire on Apollo 1 launchpad that claimed three astronauts – Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Edward H. White. Additionally, Martin Luther King Jr was shot that same day while President Johnson announced he wouldn’t run again for election.
Apollo 7, NASA’s inaugural Saturn V rocket mission, took off Oct. 11, 1968 with three astronauts Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham aboard. Over 11 days in Earth orbit they tested various components and systems within the Command Service Module (CSM), such as rendezvousing with Lunar Module carried atop Saturn V as well as propulsion navigation and control systems working as planned.
NASA was also given a significant morale boost with Apollo 7. After the tragic launchpad fire which killed three astronauts aboard Apollo 1, doubts had begun to grow about their ability to achieve their moon landing goal. Apollo 7, with its astronauts providing television broadcasts from space was successful despite Schirra being plagued with an annoying head cold throughout most of his mission in zero gravity.
On December 22, 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders embarked upon a journey that would take them further from Earth than ever before. As Apollo 8 astronauts they would test their spacecraft, circle the Moon and transmit back their experiences back to a waiting world.
They became the first humans to view the far side of the Moon and make 10 orbits around it before taking one of the most iconic photos ever – Earthrise photo.
On Christmas Eve, astronauts fired their Service Module’s engines for four minutes to launch into lunar orbit and describe it as “vast, lonely, forbidding type of existence”. Additionally, they sent back television signal with reading from Genesis back home.
Apollo 9 marked the inaugural flight of an entire Apollo spacecraft, including Command Module and Lunar Module. Additionally, this mission served to test lunar orbit rendezvous systems which would later be employed on manned lunar landing missions.
The Apollo crew used three spacecraft: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo as their homes; while LM served to take astronauts from orbit down to the lunar surface and back again.
Schweickart vomited twice on his way to the Moon, which caused such discomfort that he asked McDivitt to contact Mission Control on his behalf.
Apollo 9 arrived at Kennedy Space Center with a name decided by its crew – breaking Gemini 3’s previous record!). The gangly LM was given its new nickname of Spider while Grumman named their capsule Gumdrop for its blue wrapper upon delivery from them both modules would then undergo tests with each other and with Saturn V rocket itself at KSC.