The Flight of Apollo 11

The Apollo 11 Mission Patch

The 40th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing

Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon and the fifth manned flight of the Apollo Program

Apollo 11 was launched on July 16, 1969. The mission was flown by Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. On July 20, 1969, Aldrin and Armstrong became the first human beings to walk on the surface of the moon.

Apollo 11 Nomenclature

The lunar module was named Eagle after the bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States. The Command Module was named Columbia after the traditional feminine name for the United States and after the Columbiad Cannon in the Jules Verne novel, From the Earth to the Moon.

Lift-off of Apollo 11

On the day of the launch, thousands of people crowded the beaches and highways around the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Millions more around the world watched the launch on television. It has been said the TV coverage of Apollo 11 is the most watched television broadcast in human history.

Apollo 11 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on top of a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969 at 9:32 AM, reaching orbit 12 minutes later. A half hour later the Saturn V fired again propelling Apollo 11 out of Earth’s orbit and toward the moon.

Landing on the Moon

On July 19, Apollo 11 passed behind the dark side of the moon and fired Columbia’s main engine, settling the two spacecraft into lunar orbit. Early the next morning, Eagle separated from Columbia and began to descend toward the lunar surface. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended towards the surface, Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit, aboard Columbia.

As the descent toward the lunar surface began, Aldrin and Armstrong noticed that they were passing surface landmarks early, and radioed Houston that they were going to land long. The crew was also distracted by a series of 1202 program alarms. These were executive overflows built into the computer code for the Lunar Lander’s guidance computer. These allowed it to postpone non-essential tasks if it became overloaded.

The 1202 program alarms resulted from a mistake in the way the astronauts were trained. As a precaution, the Eagle’s docking and rendezvous radar had been intentionally turned on during the landing sequence. While the mission was still in the planning stages, NASA’s thinking had been that it may be necessary to abort the landing on short notice. As a result it was decided that the rendezvous radar would be left on during the landing for that reason. What was not foreseen at the time was that the Eagle’s computer was not able to process the data from both radars at the same time and the system overloaded, leading to the 1202 program alarms.

Although Apollo 11 landed with very little fuel left, it was learned later that the lunar gravity caused significant movement within the fuel tanks, which resulted in the exposure of some the Eagle’s fuel sensors.

Following touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin took Holy Communion privately, becoming the first and only person to do so on the moon. Aldrin kept this fact a secret both before the mission and for some years afterward. This was due to the fact that NASA was involved with a then on-going lawsuit with an atheist over the decision to allow the crew of Apollo 8 to read from the Book of Genesis, while in lunar orbit in 1968.

Walking on the Moon

At 10:56 PM, Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Lander and descended the ladder to the surface saying, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Aldrin and Armstrong quickly got to work setting up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package and an American flag after acclimatizing to lunar gravity, which is one-sixth the density of Earth’s. The lunar surface experiments left by Aldrin and Armstrong included a passive seismograph and a laser reflector. They also spoke to President Nixon over a special radio-telephone link. They then placed a number of memorial items on the lunar surface. In addition to the plaque affixed to the Eagle’s descent stage, they also left a gold olive branch and a silicone disk containing goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, as well as Soviet medals commemorating Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov and an Apollo 1 mission patch. After a stay of a little more than eight hours on the surface, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fired the Eagle’s ascent stage engine and lifted off from the surface at 7:41 PM.

The crew of Apollo 11 returned to Earth on July 24, 1969.


(1969-06-25). “Technical information summary: Apollo 11 (AS-506) Apollo Saturn V space vehicle (TM-X-62812; S/E-ASTR-S-101-69)” (PDF). p. 8. Retrived July 19/09

Richard W. Orloff. “Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference (SP-4029)”. NASA. Retrived July 14/09

Apollo-11 Missiom Chronology. NASA. Retrived July 14/09

Jones, Eric M. (editor). “Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal: The First Lunar Landing”. NASA. Retrieved July 14/09

Chaikin, Andrew (1998). A Man on the Moon. Penguin Group. pp. 204 & 623

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