Apollo 11 departed the Kennedy Space Center in the early morning of 16 July 1969 on a mission to attempt to land on the lunar surface. It is widely quoted that over a million people gathered in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral to witness what promised to be an event of epic historic import. For the first four days, its crew of Neil Armstrong as commander, lunar module pilot Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and the command module pilot Michael Collins successfully followed a path already trod by their predecessors. The crew even took extra time out to give viewers to the TV networks an extended tour of their lunar module, Eagle, with an improved colour camera.
On their fourth day, Armstrong and Aldrin left the command module, Columbia,
The Apollo 11 crew during suiting up before their flight. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
in the charge of Collins, undocked, and fired Eagle's descent engine to enter the descent orbit around the Moon. As communications proved to be somewhat troublesome, Armstrong reoriented the LM slightly to improve reception. As they approached the point where they were to reignite their descent engine for the landing phase, Armstrong began timing the passage of landmarks to help to determine whether their trajectory was as it should be, but they seemed to be a little ahead. The final burn of the descent engine proceeded smoothly, and for a time the crew could continue to monitor the passage of the landscape below. After three minutes, they rotated the LM to face upwards and allow their radar to take altitude measurements.
At this point, things began to become hair-raising, especially for the flight controllers in Houston who lacked the crew's situational awareness. Because of a flawed procedure, a switch had been left in the wrong position and, as a result, the onboard computer began to complain of being overloaded. Most people at mission control, as well as the two crewmembers in the spacecraft, had little idea of the nature of the problem. However, just two weeks before the mission, the LM computer experts had studied the computer codes that the crew were seeing and could give a go-ahead for Armstrong and Aldrin to continue down. As Aldrin read out relevant numbers, Armstrong used them to monitor the piece of lunar landscape to which the computer was guiding them. When he saw that their destination appeared to be a boulder field near a large crater, he took manual control earlier than planned, and manoeuvred the LM to a point 300 metres further down their flight path. As he flew the LM to smoother ground, mission control began to worry about a possible shortage of propellant. With only 15 seconds remaining before mission control would have called the crew to abort the landing attempt, Eagle successfully realised John F. Kennedy's goal on 20 July 1969 by landing in the southwest corner of Mare Tranquillitatis.
In the minds of the crew, the difficult part of Apollo's goal had been achieved, yet perversely, the public was more eager to witness an event whose scale was much
more human and personal. This was the moment when a man made a boot impression in the lunar dust. Armstrong later pointed out that the moonwalk carried far fewer dangers than manoeuvring seven tonnes of flimsy spacecraft loaded with explosive propellants down onto an unknown rocky surface on the end of a rocket flame, while surrounded by a hard vacuum.
Over the subsequent hours, in one of the most memorable television events in human history, first Armstrong and then Aldrin went outside onto the wastes of Mare Tranquillitatis, their activities transmitted to Earth by a black-and-white television camera that gave them a ghostly appearance. There they took photographs, collected samples and set up three simple scientific experiments: a small seismic station, a laser reflector and a solar wind collector. The social significance was not forgotten when the flag of the United States was raised on behalf of the nation that had paid for the venture. Additionally, a plaque was unveiled to inform any future visitors to Tranquillity Base that its first visitors "came in peace for all mankind" and the two explorers took a telephone call from President Richard Nixon. After 2% hours, the moonwalk ended. Armstrong and Aldrin took their exposed film and boxes of rock samples up to the ascent stage, repressurised the cabin and tried to get some fitful sleep before performing lift-off for the second time in less than a week. Their return to Collins in Columbia and the trip back to Earth were uneventful, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July.
NASA's programme to explore the Moon had been designed to be aggressive from the outset, with launch facilities at KSC constructed for multiple or closely spaced launches. Now, with the moonlanding successfully accomplished, and
America's spending on the Vietnam War draining the nation's purse, the scale of Apollo's exploration was cut back by Congress. Nevertheless, the programme's momentum brought another landing attempt only four months later.
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