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Forty Years Ago Today - The Flight Of Apollo 11

Forty years ago today, July 16, 1969, the most momentous space flight in the history of mankind rocketed skyward at 9:32 AM EDT. Apollo 11, the culmination of the United States space program that integrated the talents of over 300,000 scientists, engineers, skilled crafts workers, pilots, astronauts, and countless other professionals, was the mission that would finally achieve the goal set forth by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 -- "landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the Earth."

The timeline attached to President Kennedy's proposal -- the mission would have to be launched before the end of the 1960's -- was meant both as an inspiration for the US space program, and a challenge to the Soviet Union, which had beaten the US both in successfully launching a satellite into orbit (Sputnik, 1957) and in launching a manned space flight (Yuri Gagarin, 1961).

The Soviets accepted our challenge, but never could get the bugs worked out of their designs for a massive rocket capable of lifting a heavy payload and blasting free of the Earth's gravity. Their gigantic N1 rocket was launched four times between 1969 and 1972. Each launch attempt proved to be a spectacular failure.

America's equally gargantuan Saturn V rocket also had its share of problems, but ultimately its design proved enormously successful. Whereas the Soviet N1 utilized small 30 kerosene and liquid oxygen engines in its first stage, the first stage of the Saturn V utilized five enormous F-1 engines. Although the size of the F-1 engines gave engineers a number of challenging problems to solve, the Saturn V was never plagued by the sheer number of mechanical failures experienced by the Soviets, who had to synchronize 30 engines in order to produce a working rocket booster. And while all three stages of the Soviet N1 used kerosene and oxygen as fuel, the American Saturn V employed kerosene as a rocket fuel in only the first stage. The second and third stages of the Saturn V used J-2 rocket engines that burned liquid hydrogen and oxygen, a lighter and more powerful rocket fuel. Thus the more reliable Saturn V could lift a much heavier payload.

The program to land a man on the moon was named Apollo. It was preceded by the Mercury program (1961 - 1963) and the Gemini program (1965 - 1966). Apollo 1 ended in disaster when its crew, Gus Grissim, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, died in a fire during a launch simulation on January 27, 1967.

The Apollo program was grounded for nearly a year after the fire, while the command module underwent a through redesign. Apollo 4 (Nov. 1967) and Apollo 6 (April 1968) were unmanned test launches of the full Saturn V launch vehicle and command/service module configuration. Apollo 7 (October 1968) was the first manned Apollo flight. Apollo 8 (December 1968) was the first manned space flight to break earth orbit and orbit the moon. The reading of Genesis 1 by the Apollo 8 crew while circling the moon was an incredible event that spiritually united a world that had been torn apart by war and strife.

Apollo 9 (March 1969) was the first mission flown with the Lunar Module. The astronauts successfully extracted the LM from the third stage of the Saturn V, orbited the earth with the command/service module (CSM) and LM docked, separated the LM and tested its engines, and performed several space walks. Apollo 10 (May 1969) set the stage for the moon landing. The full spacecraft (CSM and LM) left earth orbit, orbited the moon, separated, and the LM crew descended to within 8.4 nautical miles of the lunar surface.

And in July 1969, the first mission to actually land a manned space craft on the moon was a "go."

If you were one of the millions of viewers around the world who watched the launch of Apollo 11 forty years ago this morning, here is what you saw:

More to come on the historic flight of Apollo 11 during the next few days, including a celebration of Neil Armstrong's epic "giant leap for mankind" on July 20th.


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Comments (13)

Not meaning to go all Hoosa... (Below threshold)

Not meaning to go all Hoosan and everything but many of my friends parents were the engineers and technicians that designed and built the hardware used for the Saturn 5 here in Huntsville.

It was a milestone that has never been matched by any other country since.

I remember. I was 15 in Ric... (Below threshold)

I remember. I was 15 in Richmond Va., visiting my maternal grandparents with my family. Saw the walk at my moms cousins. We made it there with just minutes to spare before Armstrong's walk. I remember being frantic to get there so as not to miss this historic event.

I still remember sitting on... (Below threshold)

I still remember sitting on My sleeping mat in 2nd grade watching it on the 200 pound T.V. they used to educate us on important stuff like Big birds friends.

Cannot believe 40 years have passed already? Scary.

I remember it well: the sus... (Below threshold)

I remember it well: the suspiciously pre-WW2 television picture quality, the scripted lines, the sound-proof sheet metal of Eagle 1, the curious extra weight allowed for golf clubs on subsequent missions (for PR photo ops).

Does anyone have a link to photographs of any of the Eagle landing assemblies sitting on the moon's surface like Ozymandion's feet after all these years? Or of the flags planted? By satellite? Hubble telescope?

Call me suspicious of NASA's sudden onset of moon phobia as regular high-quality satellite "broadcast" TV transmissions made thoughts of fakery too risky by unauthorized receivers.

I'm not old enough to remem... (Below threshold)

I'm not old enough to remember the events but I am old enough to remember a commercial that went something like, "Thirty years ago mankind went to the moon and discovered that it wasn't made of cheese. We haven't been back since."

I don't know if anyone reme... (Below threshold)

I don't know if anyone remembers these, but Aurora models made some great model kits of Apollo moon landing, LEM and Command modules in those days. Watching the moon landing on TV, and having model kits of all the crafts was real excitement for a young guy as much into space as I was.

I always felt sorry for Michael Collins back in the command module though. To be that close to the moon, but not able to set foot on the surface must have been living hell. Even worse, was the Apollo 13 crew who not only lost the moon with the accident they had, but nearly lost their lives as well. That sure was drama there. I remember the pope encouraging prayer for their safety and all the tense TV breaking news updates.

America's Apollo moon program provided some of the greatest joys, the actual moon landing, some of the greatest drama, Apollo 13, and some of the greatest sadness, the ground accidental fire that claimed three lives.

Wow, that must have been on... (Below threshold)

Wow, that must have been one helluva ride. Can you even imagine the stones those guys had to get on that thing and go for a ride. Rockets were still tending to blow up and the computers they we using had less power than your PDA.

A lot of people on the righ... (Below threshold)
Bread Man:

A lot of people on the right are highly crtitical of government run programs.

What is it about the space program that makes it possible for republicans and democrats to rejoice together about it?

Is it possible to come up with a list of characteristics that a worthwhile government program should have?

This is a serious question, I hope some of you respond.

bryanD,Actually th... (Below threshold)


Actually the Hubble Space Telescope does not have the resolution necessary to clearly photograph the objects left behind on the moon. At the distance between the Hubble and the moon (over 300,000 km) those objects would be less than one pixel resolution for the Hubble's camera. It's one thing to take pictures of distant objects like stars (which appear as point objects, but of course are actually massive) or relatively large planetary bodies like Jupiter or Saturn, and quite another to take a photograph of something the size of a trampoline from a quarter-million miles away.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched last year) does have the resolution to photograph those objects, and supposedly is scheduled to complete photo sweeps of some of the Apollo landing sites later this year.

In 2001, photographs taken by the Clementine Lunar Orbiter were found to contain a small anomaly on the lunar surface believed to be the descent stage of the Apollo 15 lunar module.

I can well remeber that ver... (Below threshold)

I can well remeber that very day it was hot and we watched it all on TV and our cat had three kittens on that day we named them for the astronuats and TRANQUILITY BASE HERE THE EAGLE HAS LANDED

I didn't know Jack Chick di... (Below threshold)

I didn't know Jack Chick did a moon landing pamphlet, Bryan

I was 14 years old and we w... (Below threshold)
Dennis D:

I was 14 years old and we were on a cruise to the Bahamas from New York on the Incres Lines Victoria. We were sailing off the coast of Florida and could see the launch so clearly . I will never forget.

Only one question . .... (Below threshold)

Only one question . .

Who was on the moon filming Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man, One giant leap for mankind." ???

Hmmmm . .






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