Half a Century Ago Today, Apollo 11 Launched to the Moon

July 16, 2019, marks half a century since the historic launch of NASA’s Apollo 11 from Cape Kennedy, the first-ever mission to the surface of the Moon.


On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT, Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins set off inside the capsule installed on top of a Saturn V rocket, the largest ever built in space history.

Apollo 11 was the culmination of the American space program, which started with the Mercury and Gemini missions.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, the Apollo Project suffered a significant delay due to the tragedy of the Apollo 1 mission.

Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon. NASA / Shutterstock.
Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the moon. NASA / Shutterstock.

On January 27, 1967, during cabin pressurization tests on land, a devastating fire in the command module cost the life to Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.

This accident reminded the public that space exploration was not without risks.

After evaluating the origin of the failure that caused the accident, operations resumed and NASA began testing the components in a series of preparatory missions.

Thus, Apollo 8 was the first to make the trip to the lunar orbit.

Advertisement

On the other hand, the Apollo 10 of May of 1969 supposed a general test in which, except for the moon landing, all the procedures were put to test for the last time to successfully complete the ultimate goal: land a human being on the surface of the moon.

The honors of landing on the moon were given to the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission.

Finally, and after more than a decade of meticulous planning, the big day arrived.

On the morning of July 16, 1969, thousands of people gathered in the vicinity of the NASA rocket launch center in Florida and the launch was broadcast live on radio and television to 33 countries.

While the launch of the Saturn V rocket was flawless, NASA engineers were afraid of a possible explosion at the time of launch.

For that reason, the VIP spectators who attended Cape Canaveral were located 5.6 kilometers from the launching platform.

That precautionary measure was not random.

The technicians had calculated the amount of fuel that could explode and the maximum distance that would reach the fragments before an eventual explosion, which was about 4.8 kilometers from the launch site.

Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. NASA.
Apollo 11 was the United States’ first lunar landing mission. NASA.

Neil Armstrong was the commander, with Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin as assistant and co-pilot of the lunar module. The third member of the crew, Michael Collins, would pilot the command module while in orbit around the moon while his two fellow astronauts would descend with the lunar module to the surface of the moon.

As was tradition, the crew chose the names of both modules.

The command module was named Columbia and the lunar module was named Eagle.

The trip to the moon lasted three days and the ship entered lunar orbit on July 19. While the crew performed scheduled tests and evaluated the conditions of the chosen place to land, the ship made thirty orbits around the moon.

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary. Shutterstock.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary. Shutterstock.

The area designated for the moon landing had previously been baptized as the Sea of ​​Tranquility due to its extensive flat surface.

It was on July 20, when the Eagle descended successfully to the surface of the moon and Armstrong and Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the moon.