Apollo 11 Mission

Kennedy's Dream

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Greene, Nick. "Apollo 11 Mission." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/apollo-11-mission-3071335. Greene, Nick. (2017, March 2). Apollo 11 Mission. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/apollo-11-mission-3071335 Greene, Nick. "Apollo 11 Mission." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/apollo-11-mission-3071335 (accessed September 21, 2017).
Apollo 11 Mission Patch
Apollo 11 Mission Patch. NASA

"We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

President John F. Kennedy
Rice University
Houston, Texas
September 12, 1962

The Space Race, and competition to land on the moon were products of the Cold War. Not only were our efforts to get into space and on the Moon efforts to prove technological superiority, but there was also a real fear in the United States and the then-Soviet Union, that the other might place weapons of mass destruction in space.

The Soviet Union was ahead of the U.S. in this effort. So far, they had placed the first artificial satellite in orbit, with the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957. On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth. From the time he entered office in 1961, President John F. Kennedy made it a priority to place a man on the Moon. His dream became reality on July 20, 1969, with the landing of the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface. It was a watershed moment in world history, amazing even the Russians, who had to admit that (for the moment) they had lost the space race.


Apollo 11 Lifts Off!

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, carrying three astronauts: Neil ArmstrongBuzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. They reached the Moon on July 20, and later that day as millions watched on televisions around the world, Neil Armstrong left the lunar lander to become the first man to set foot on the Moon.

Together the two men took images, rock samples, and did some scientific experiments for a few hours before returning to the Eagle lander for the final time. They left the Moon (after 21 hours and 36 minutes) to return to the Columbia command module, where Michael Collins had stayed behind. They returned to Earth to a hero's welcome and the rest is history! 

Why Go to the Moon?

Ostensibly, the purposes of the manned lunar missions were to study the internal structure of the Moon, surface composition, how the surface structure was formed and the age of the Moon. They would also investigate traces of volcanic activity, the rate of solid objects hitting the moon, presence of any magnetic fields, and tremors. Samples would also be gathered of lunar soil and detected gases. That was the scientific case for what was also a technological challenge. 

Starting the Road to the Moon

The early manned flights of the Mercury and Gemini missions had demonstrated that humans could survive in space. Next came the Apollo missions, which would land humans on the Moon.

First would come unmanned test flights. These would be followed by manned missions testing the command module in Earth's orbit. Next, the lunar module would be connected to the command module, still in Earth's orbit.

Then, the first flight to the Moon would be attempted, followed by the first attempt to land on the moon. There were plans for as many as 20 Apollo missions.

Starting Apollo

Early in the program, on January 27, 1967, a tragedy occurred that killed three astronauts and nearly killed the program. A fire aboard the ship during tests of the Apollo/Saturn 204 (more commonly known as Apollo 1 mission) left all three crewmembers (Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, {the second American astronaut to fly into space} astronaut Edward H. White II, {the first American astronaut to "walk" in space} and astronaut Roger B. Chaffee) dead.

After an investigation had been completed, and changes made, the program continued. No mission was ever conducted with the name Apollo 2 or Apollo 3. Apollo 4 launched in November 1967.

It was followed in January 1968 with Apollo 5, the first test of the Lunar Module in space. The final unmanned Apollo mission was Apollo 6, which launched on April 4, 1968.

The manned missions began with Apollo 7's Earth orbit, which launched in October 1968. Apollo 8 followed in December 1968, orbited the moon and returned to Earth. Apollo 9 was another Earth-orbit mission to test the lunar module.

The Apollo 10 mission (in May 1969) was a complete staging of the upcoming Apollo 11 mission without actually landing on the Moon. It was the second one to orbit the Moon and the first to travel to the Moon with the entire Apollo spacecraft configuration. Astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan descended inside the Lunar Module to within 14 kilometers of the lunar surface achieving the closest approach to date to the Moon. Their mission paved the final way to the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

The Apollo missions were the most successful manned missions to come out of the Cold War. They and the astronauts that flew them accomplished many great things that led NASA to create technologies that led not just to space shuttles and planetary missions, but also to improvements in medical and other technologies.

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.