The first attempt at a manned lunar landing took place in July 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins would repeat the Apollo 10 mission. But when the Lunar Module reached 50,000 feet above the lunar surface, the descent engine fired for twelve minutes and the crew landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. This view shows the complete mission path of Apollo 11 from launch to return to Earth.
Apollo 11 was launched at 9:32 am EDT on July 16, 1969 on a Saturn V rocket.
At 2 hours 44 minutes into the mission, the crew left Earth orbit and headed to the moon by firing their third stage engine for 347 seconds. The crew then separated the Command Space Module (nicknamed Columbia) from the third stage and docked with the Lunar Module (nicknamed Eagle).
The Command Space Module engine fired for six minutes to slow the spacecraft enough to be captured by the moon’s gravity. Later they would burn the engine again to place them in a near circular orbit of 111 km (69 miles). The next day, Armstrong and Aldrin transferred into the Lunar Module and separated from the Command Space Module. On the far side of the moon, they fired their descent engine for 30 seconds to place the Lunar Module at the desired 50,000 foot altitude at the appropriate spot 450km (280 miles) east of the landing site.
On Sunday July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin attempted the first lunar landing. The crew making the first lunar landing faced several problems: communications with Earth was intermittent, their position when they fired their descent engine was farther west than they had expected, and their computer stopped several times with data overflow program alarms during the critical landing phase. Finally, as the Lunar Module passed through 600 feet, Armstrong noticed that they were heading for a large crater the size of the Houston Astrodome, filled with automobile-sized boulders. He took over manual control of the Lunar Module and flew over the crater, landing a few kilometers downrange. It seemed forever before we heard the words “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours outside the Lunar Module, collecting 21.5 kg (47.5 lbs) of lunar samples. They erected an American flag, received a call of congratulations from President Nixon, and inspected their Lunar Module, Eagle. They set up a seismometer to measure moonquakes and a laser ranging retro reflector which would be used to determine the distance from the Earth to the moon accurately. Laser beam pulses sent from large telescopes on Earth would be timed as they hit the reflector and were detected when they returned.
Apollo 11 spent 21 hours 36 minutes on the lunar surface. The rocket engine on the ascent stage of Eagle fired for seven minutes returning the astronauts to lunar orbit, leaving the descent stage on the moon. Just over three hours later, the Lunar Module and Command Space Module were docked, allowing the two moonwalkers to transfer themselves and their lunar samples back into the Command Module. Two hours later, Eagle was released, destined to crash into the moon in a couple of weeks.
Apollo 11 left lunar orbit on July 22, 1969 with a 2.5 minute burn of their Service Module engine.
As Apollo 11 approached the end of their flight, they had amazing views of the Earth. The crew of Apollo 11 had successfully fulfilled the challenge set by President Kennedy in 1961: to land men on the moon and return them to Earth safely by the end of the 1960s.
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