50th anniversary of the first Moon landing

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20
Jul

Apollo 11 mission

On 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, and Michael Collins made a flying leap in world history. To commemorate this great date, NASA TV offers the world to watch live streaming directly from America's space program to YouTube and get the latest from their exploration of the universe.

 

Apollo 11 crew – Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. Credit: Radio Adelaide
Apollo 11 crew – Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. Credit: Radio Adelaide

 

After eight years since the 1961 flights of Yuri Gagarin on 12th April and Alan Shepard on 5th May, and only seven months since NASA's bold decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon as the first manned flight, on the morning of 16th July 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 sat atop Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre.

 

Neil Armstrong leads crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins out of the space centre on the Apollo 11 space mission to the Moon. Credit: CNN
Neil Armstrong leads crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins out of the space centre on the Apollo 11 space mission to the Moon. Credit: CNN

 

Launched at 9:32 EDT, the astronauts were in Earth orbit 12 minutes later. After one and a half orbits, they headed for the Moon. Three days later the crew was in lunar orbit. The following day Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module Eagle and began the descent, while Collins orbited in the command module Columbia. The lunar module landed on the Sea of Tranquility at 16:17 EDT. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong reported.

 

The Saturn V clears the launch pad and Apollo 11 blasted the first humans to the moon on 16th July 1969. Credit: CNN
The Saturn V clears the launch pad and Apollo 11 blasted the first humans to the moon on 16th July 1969. Credit: CNN

 

At 22:56 EDT, with more than half a billion people watching on television, Armstrong climbed down the ladder and made his immortal statement: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind". After about nine minutes Aldrin stepped on the ladder to join Armstrong, and he described the lunar surface as a 'magnificent desolation'. The two explored the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs. Neil Armstrong shot the majority of the pictures and therefore only five photos of him on the Moon exist.

 

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module. Credit: NASA

 

The first moonwalkers put up an American flag in honour of the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs, which read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind". The astronauts experimented with different locomotion techniques on the Moon surface. During the process, they received a phone call from President Nixon who congratulated the two with the successful landing. While Richard Nixon spoke for a minute, Neil Armstrong's reply lasted for about half a minute.

 

Neil Armstrong's reflection in Buzz Aldrin's helmet on the lunar surface on 20th July 1969. Credit: CNN
Neil Armstrong's reflection in Buzz Aldrin's helmet on the lunar surface on 20th July 1969. Credit: CNN

 

Aldrin documented the condition of the spacecraft to make sure it was in proper condition for the launch. Then they loaded the lunar samples into the spacecraft, got rid of all unnecessary items for homecoming, and returned to Columbia. On 24th July the crew splashed down off Hawaii. The legendary mission was completed: men from Earth have walked on the Moon and returned safely. Thus, the late President John F. Kennedy's challenge to land on the Moon before the decade would be out was won within the reasonable deadline.

 

Buzz Aldrin stands near a scientific experiment on the lunar surface. Credit: The Telegraph/Getty Images
Buzz Aldrin stands near a scientific experiment on the lunar surface. Credit: The Telegraph/Getty Images

 

Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission did not give much credit to the possibility of a successful outcome. Later he recalled: "I thought we had a 90% chance of getting back safely to Earth on that flight but only a 50-50 chance of making a landing on that first attempt". In his prediction, he was amazingly close to the fatal possibility he faced together with the fellow moonwalker when Aldrin discovered that a critical piece of the machinery was broken. That circuit breaker was the only thing that could help the lunar module get back to Collins in orbit. Later Michael Collins explained: "If they couldn't get off, they were dead men, and I was getting home by myself". Fortunately, Buzz Aldrin came up with a lifesaving solution to use a pen for pushing the button in, and the first moonwalkers were finally able to leave the Moon. Thus, the 10% chance of getting back safely home which Neil Armstrong counted on, has worked for the two.

 

Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong wave to crowds at a parade held in August 1969 celebrating their voyage. Credit: CNN
Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong wave to crowds at a parade held in August 1969 celebrating their voyage. Credit: CNN

 

While everyone remembers the US Flag been saluted on the Moon, there is a rumour how a Union Flag was planted on the moon by an unwitting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Speaking to The One Show on BBC One, Keith Wright who was an engineer at the Kennedy Space Centre, working on experiments for the 1969 Apollo mission, revealed: "We were working on the experiments that the astronauts were going to put on the lunar surface... There were two brackets on the experiment which held the solar panels folded while travelling to the moon. We got a ball pen and signed our names... I signed my name and I thought, well, I’ll put the ‘UK’. Then I thought, I’ll draw a little Union Flag. So we had a little Union Flag sketched onto there, installed it on the experiment package and it went to the moon". True or false, only the future mission crew will be able to check Mr Wright's words.

 

Former Apollo astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, and Walt Cunningham – meet with the media at the Saturn V Centre prior to a 30th-anniversary banquet, on 16th July 1999. Credit: CNN
Former Apollo astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, and Walt Cunningham – meet with the media at the Saturn V Centre prior to a 30th-anniversary banquet, on 16th July 1999. Credit: CNN

 

All lunar landings were part of the Apollo program and they took place between July 1969 and December 1972. Despite the tough task, twelve American astronauts have walked on the Moon:

  1. Neil Armstrong (5 August 1930 – 25 August 2012) – The first civilian to fly into space;
  2. Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin (20 January 1930) – A PhD holder at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, currently is the first of the living astronauts, to set foot on the Moon;
  3. Charles 'Pete' Conrad (2 June 1930 – 8 July 1999) – He made a famous joke after stepping onto the Moon, saying: "Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me";
  4. Alan Bean (15 March 1932 – 26 May 2018) – The only artist who visited the Moon and made the paintings of the lunar environment as an eyewitness;
  5. Alan Shepard (18 November 1923 – 21 July 1998) – During his 9 hours and 17 minutes exploring the Moon surface, he famously knocked a couple of golf balls and drove further than professional golfers on Earth, due to the Moon's lower gravity;
  6. Edgar Dean ‘Ed’ Mitchell (17 September 1930 – 4 February 2016) – The notorious founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, exploring psychic and paranormal events;
  7. David Scott (6 June 1932) – Together with James Irwin, he was a crew member of the Apollo 15, the first mission to land near mountains and travel in a Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon;
  8. James Benson ‘Jim’ Irwin (17 March 1930 – 8 August 1991) – During the mission, he developed symptoms of heart trouble; although his heart rhythm was normal by the time Apollo 15 returned to Earth, he had a heart attack a few months later, which he survived. Although he died of a heart attack at the age of 61 in 1991;
  9. John Watts Young (24 September 1930 – 5 January 2018) – The longest-serving astronaut in NASA history so far who completed six space missions in the Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle programs;
  10. Charles Moss Duke Jr. (3 October 1935) – During the Apollo 11 mission when the lunar module landed on the Moon it was his voice the world heard saying: "Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" Later, he was part of the Apollo 16 crew, moonwalking in April 1972 and thus becoming the youngest moonwalker at age 36 years and 201 days;
  11. Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt (3 July 1935) – The second civilian to fly to the Moon, and the first scientist in outer space;
  12. Eugene Andrew ‘Gene’ Cernan (14 March 1934 – 16 January 2017) – The commander of the last Apollo mission. When the lunar module was boarded on 13th December 1972, he said: "America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow... Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17".

Four out of the twelve moonwalkers – Charles Duke, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, David Scott, and Harrison Schmitt – are still living as of July 2019.

 

Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Capitol Hill in July 2009 on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 mission. Credit: CNN
Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin on Capitol Hill in July 2009 on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 mission. Credit: CNN

 

On 16th March, eight of the 17 surviving Apollo astronauts, including three out of the four men alive who have walked on the Moon, gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing at the Explorers Club in New York. Those were Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7), Al Worden (Apollo 15), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17), Michael Collins (Apollo 11), and Fred Haise (Apollo 13).

 

Eight surviving astronauts of the Apollo missions – Duke, Aldrin, Cunningham, Worden, Schweickart, Schmitt, Collins, and Haise. Credit: Felix Kunze/The Explorers Club
Eight surviving astronauts of the Apollo missions – Duke, Aldrin, Cunningham, Worden, Schweickart, Schmitt, Collins, and Haise. Credit: Felix Kunze/The Explorers Club

 

President Donald Trump welcomed the Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in the Oval Office on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, stating: “Tomorrow is a very big day... 50 years from the time we planted a beautiful American flag on the moon”. The White House event was also attended by the late Neil Armstrong's sons Eric and Mark, the first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

During the meeting, the 45th President of America revealed that his administration was going to get astronauts back on the moon by 2024 and on to Mars in the 2030s. He wondered whether astronauts could get to Mars without first going back to the Moon. While Michael Collins supported going directly to Mars, Jim Bridenstine favoured the idea of the Moon as a training ground. Outstanding commenter as always, President Trump noted: “It seems to me Mars direct, who knows better than these people?”

 

Collins and Aldrin meeting the President in the Oval Office on 19th July 2019. Credit: AP
Collins and Aldrin meeting the President in the Oval Office on 19th July 2019. Credit: AP

 

Buzz Aldrin is a famous advocater for sending future missions to the Moon and Mars. When he walked in a New York Men's fashion show in 2017, Aldrin wore a shirt that said: "Get your ass to Mars". Interestingly, launches to Mars can occur only every 26 months because of the planetary alignment, and the trip is seven months each way.

Michael Collins tweeted later same night: "As I look around this room... I wish it were large enough to hold 400,000 people. Because at its peak, that's how many people were employed by NASA on the quest for the moon... I'm just thrilled to represent them".

Friday afternoon NASA televised a two-hour show remembering Apollo 11 mission. At the end of the program, Jim Bridenstine presented the new logo for the moon program Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

 

Apollo 11 Moonwalk (Original Mission Video by NASA)