About First Moon Landing
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a speech to set a fantastic goal for the United States of America. President Kennedy promised the world that the U.S. would land a man on the Moon within the decade. Eight years later, that promise would come true.
Mission to the Moon on Apollo 11
Three NASA astronauts were chosen to pilot the first mission to the Moon. They were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
This would be the first manned landing on the Moon. It was an exciting time in history. The United States was in a "space race" with the Soviet Union to put the first man on the Moon. If the Apollo 11 mission was successful, Neil Armstrong would be that man.
After months of training, the Apollo 11 spacecraft was ready for liftoff. The mission launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. The rocket to the Moon was called the Saturn V (5). The rocket was huge. It stood 363 feet high and weighed 6.5 million pounds. It was a very complicated rocket that would travel in multiple "stages" to get to the Moon.
Each stage was filled with rocket fuel. After each stage was complete, the piece of the rocket that was used up would detach and fall off. The final stages would be used to orbit and land on the Moon and bring the astronauts back to Earth.
Landing on the Moon
The mission was not smooth sailing. At one point, Armstrong had to take manual control of the landing rather than use the computer. This was not planned. If anything went wrong, it would not have left the crew with enough fuel for the return flight home. Neil was able to land successfully on the Moon with only 40 seconds of fuel remaining. After the landing, Neil Armstrong sent a message back to mission control and the world. In the message, he said the famous words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." While the lunar module was on the Moon, Michael Collins remained in the command module and orbited the Moon.
On July 21, 1969, at 10:56 PM, Neil Armstrong was the first to leave the Eagle and step onto the Moon. Then, he said these famous words back to Earth: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Buzz Aldrin also walked on the Moon during this trip. For about two and a half hours, the men collected moon samples like rocks and dust, took photographs, and did experiments. They also placed the American flag on the Moon, while 600 million people watched on TV.
Since the dust is so thick and there isn't any wind on the Moon, the footprints he and Buzz Aldrin left are still up there.
The Return to Earth
The Command Module, Columbia, returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. Upon reentering Earth's atmosphere, parachutes popped out of the spaceship to help it land safely in the Pacific Ocean. A helicopter picked up the astronauts and flew them to a Navy ship, the USS Hornet. The astronauts were then "quarantined," along with their samples. Being quarantined meant that the astronauts had to be kept apart from everyone else until doctors could be sure they were in good health. A few days later, everyone gave them a big "welcome home" with a wonderful parade. Mission accomplished!
Space Exploration Today
The United States is still the only country to put a man on the Moon. Only 12 men have walked on it. In 1972, NASA ended the Apollo program. A new way to send astronauts into space was about to begin. In 1981, the United States launched a new type of craft into space, known as the Space Shuttle Orbiter. Just like a plane, the shuttle could be reused. It was perfect for repeat missions. So far, there have been 292 missions into space made by three countries: the United States, Russia/USSR, and China. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Could Mars be our next great adventure?
Did You Know?
- All of the Apollo ships’ computers were less powerful than today’s cell phone!
- When Buzz Aldrin joined Neil Armstrong on the surface of the Moon, he had to make sure not to lock the spacecraft’s door because there was no outer handle. It’s a good thing they didn’t have to send up a locksmith!
- When Alan Shepherd was on the Moon in a later mission, he hit a golf ball and it flew nearly half a mile!
- The space suits worn by the astronauts weighed around 180 pounds on Earth. On the Moon, the space suit only weighed 30 pounds because of the lack of gravity.
- The first footprint on the Moon, made by Neil Armstrong, is still there. This is because the Moon has no wind to cover it up.