For millennia, humans could only gaze upon the moon from afar. For all the stories told about it, the moon seemed forever out of reach. Then, in May 1961, in the heat of the geopolitical rivalry between U.S. and the Soviet Union, President John Kennedy declared that we would be going there after all: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth."
This photo, from earlier that May, shows Kennedy (center, foreground) watching a television broadcast of a space flight by astronaut Alan Shepard, accompanied by others including Vice President Lyndon Johnson (left, foreground) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (right).
Caption byJon Skillings / Photo by Photograph by Cecil Stoughton in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
There were in fact two men who landed on the moon and returned safely to Earth in the first-ever visit by humankind to another celestial body, NASA's Apollo 11 mission. Those two were Neil Armstrong (left), the flight commander, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (right), who piloted the Apollo lunar module to the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. The third member of the crew, Michael Collins, piloted the command module that orbited the moon for the 21 hours that Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface.
The Apollo 11 crew would spend most (or in Collins' case, all) of the eight days of their mission in the Command and Services Module (CSM)--known more conversationally as Columbia--seen here at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April 1969.
Before any mission, and certainly before one as momentous as a moon landing, astronauts spend months in training. Here, a month before liftoff, Armstrong gets the lay of the land in the Apollo Lunar Module Mission Simulator.
Suited up for spaceflight, the astronauts (from right, Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin) depart the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building at the Kennedy Space Center during the prelaunch countdown on July 16, 1969.
A camera mounted atop the mobile launch tower captured this vivid image of the liftoff. Collins said in a NASA account from the 1970s that the rocket was "climbing like a dingbat"--less than three hours after liftoff, the astronauts were at 1,200 miles altitude, and at one point in the early going they were traveling at 35,579 feet per second, he said, "more than enough to escape from the Earth's gravitational field."
Here, on July 22, Aldrin shows a TV audience back on Earth just how an astronaut goes about making a sandwich in zero gravity. "When this picture was made," NASA writes, "Apollo 11 was approximately 137,000 nautical miles from Earth, traveling at a speed of about 4,300 feet per second."
Day 4: "As we ease around on the left side of the Moon," says Aldrin, "I marvel again at the precision of our path. We have missed hitting the Moon by a paltry 300 nautical miles, at a distance of nearly a quarter of a million miles from Earth, and don't forget that the Moon is a moving target and that we are racing through the sky just ahead of its leading edge.
"When we launched the other day the Moon was nowhere near where it is now; it was some 40 degrees of arc, or nearly 200,000 miles, behind where it is now, and yet those big computers in the basement in Houston [at NASA's Mission Control] didn't even whimper but belched out super-accurate predictions....
"The accuracy of the overall system is phenomenal: out of a total of nearly 3,000 feet per second, we have velocity errors in our body axis coordinate system of only a tenth of 1 foot per second in each of the three directions."
This image shows the Eagle lunar lander on July 21 making its docking approach to the Columbia after leaving the moon's surface. The dark section of the surface is Smyth's Sea, and the object in the background, of course, is Earth.
Aldrin exited the lunar module shortly after Armstrong. "In less than 15 minutes, I was backing awkwardly out of the hatch and onto the surface to join Neil, who, in the tradition of all tourists, had his camera ready to photograph my arrival."
Aldrin stepped onto the moon at 11:16 p.m. EDT. As it turned out, most of the photos of an Apollo 11 astronaut on the moon are of Aldrin, since Armstrong had the 70mm lunar surface camera most of the time.
Aldrin: "I felt buoyant and full of goose pimples when I stepped down on the surface. I immediately looked down at my feet and became intrigued with the peculiar properties of the lunar dust. If one kicks sand on a beach, it scatters in numerous directions, with some grains traveling farther than others. On the moon the dust travels exactly and precisely as it goes in various directions, and every grain of it lands nearly the same distance away."
Here, Aldrin is seen with gear including the Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP, foreground), the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3, beyond the PSEP); and black-and-white lunar surface television camera (background, at left).
This picture of Aldrin is one of the most iconic in the history of space exploration. Of moving on the moon, he later recounted: "I took off jogging to test my maneuverability. The exercise gave me an odd sensation and looked even more odd when I later saw the films of it. With bulky suits on, we seemed to be moving in slow motion. I noticed immediately that my inertia seemed much greater. Earth-bound, I would have stopped my run in just one step, but I had to use three or four steps to sort of wind down.
"My Earth weight, with the big backpack and heavy suit, was 360 pounds. On the moon, I weighed only 60 pounds."
Now we see both astronauts. That's Armstrong on the left, in a picture taken by the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera mounted on the lunar module.
Aldrin: "A small telescoping arm was attached to the flagpole to keep the flag extended and perpendicular. As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn't fully extend. Thus the flag, which should have been flat, had its own unique permanent wave."
Back on Earth, Mission Control was keeping watch over every aspect of the Apollo 11 voyage, including the extravehicular activity on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours moving around the surface, outside the lunar module, and about 21 hours total on the moon. The LM lifted off from the moon at 1:54 p.m. EDT on July 21.
And then they were back, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, about 800 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, at 12:50 p.m. EDT on July 24. The three astronauts are in the lift raft, along with a U.S. Navy diver. But those aren't wetsuits they're wearing. Given the huge unknowns about what the astronauts might have encountered in space, they're wearing biological isolation garments. Shortly, they'll be picked up by a helicopter from the U.S.S. Hornet.
Aboard the U.S.S. Hornet to greet the returning astronauts was President Richard Nixon. The Apollo 11 trio stayed in the Mobile Quarantine Facility until they reached the Manned Spacecraft Center's Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston. On July 20, Nixon had spoken with the astronauts in space: "Neil and Buzz, I am talking to you by telephone from the Oval Office at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made."
The Apollo 11 astronauts, still in the quarantine facility, arrive at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston on July 27, having been transported there aboard a C-141 aircraft via Hawaii. In the foreground, Armstrong plays a ukulele.
In August, the command module traveled on aboard a Super Guppy aircraft from Houston to North American Rockwell in Downey, Calif., after its own post-spaceflight quarantine. The bottom of the CM shows some of the heat damage caused by re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.
Two days later, on August 13, the Apollo 11 astronauts--Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong (from left to right in the rear of the lead car here)--are celebrated in a ticker tape parade that ran down Broadway and Park Ave in New York City.