Free High School Lesson: First Man on the Moon

One of mankind's most notable achievements was the Apollo 11 spaceflight mission that landed the first humans on the Moon, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969. Six hours later Armstrong became the first man to step onto the lunar surface.

The Apollo 11 crew, from left to right, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot.

The Apollo 11 crew, from left to right, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot.

Background

After the end of World War II there was a period of increased tension between the capitalist West, particularly the Unites States, and the communist Soviet Union (USSR). During this period, known as the Cold War, both sides competed in an "arms race" to develop increasingly more powerful weapons. They also vied with one another in the "space race" for supremacy in the field of space exploration.

The USSR gained an early advantage; eg in September 1959 the Soviet Luna 2 spacecraft became the first manmade object to reach the surface of the Moon, and in April 1961 Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space.

Seeking to gain the initiative, US President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to Congress in May 1961 setting the goal of a manned moon landing:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. "

As a result the Apollo program was dedicated to the fulfillment of President Kennedy's goal. Key steps in the program leading to the manned moon landing were:

  • January 1967, a fire erupted in the command module during a launch pad test killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.
  • November 1967, first (unmanned) launch of Saturn V rocket, which would launch the lunar flights.
  • October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo flight, orbited the Earth for 11 days.
  • December 1968, Apollo 8, the first manned flight to orbit the Moon. The crew were the first humans to see the far side of the Moon and earthrise over the lunar horizon with their own eyes. Live television pictures were broadcast to Earth and on Christmas Eve the crew made a television broadcast in which they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis.
  • May 1969, Apollo 10, in this "dress rehearsal" for the lunar landing, Apollo 10's Lunar Module was flown manned around the Moon and descended to 8.4 nautical miles (15.6 km) without landing.

The Apollo spacecraft

The Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a Command Module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, which was the only part which landed back on Earth; a Service Module (SM), which supported the Command Module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a Lunar Module (LM) for landing on the Moon.

Apollo 11 spacecraft. SM: Service Module (no call sign); CM: Command Module, Columbia; LM: Lunar Module, Eagle (pre-production appearance)

Apollo 11 spacecraft. SM: Service Module (no call sign); CM: Command Module, Columbia; LM: Lunar Module, Eagle (pre-production appearance)

Launch and flight to the Moon

A Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969 at 13:32:00 UTC carrying commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin; and command module pilot Michael Collins. It entered orbit twelve minutes later.[1] After one and a half orbits, the S-IVB third-stage engine pushed the spacecraft onto its trajectory toward the Moon at 16:22:13 UTC. About 30 minutes later the command/service module pair separated from this last remaining Saturn V stage, docked with the Lunar Module and headed for the Moon.[3]

Apollo 11 launch

On July 19 at 17:21:50 UTC, Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. In the thirty orbits[4] that followed, the crew saw passing views of their landing site in the southern Sea of Tranquility.

Lunar descent

On July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module Eagle carrying Armstrong and Aldrin separated from the Command Module Columbia. Michael Collins piloted the command spacecraft alone in lunar orbit until Armstrong and Aldrin returned to it just under a day later for the trip back to Earth.

The Eagle in lunar orbit after separating from Columbia

The Eagle in lunar orbit after separating from Columbia

As the descent began, Armstrong and Aldrin found that they were passing landmarks on the surface 4 seconds early and reported that they were "long"; they would land miles west of their target point.

Five minutes into the descent burn, and 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above the surface of the Moon, the LM navigation and guidance computer distracted the crew with the first of several unexpected program alarms. Mission Control computer engineer Jack Garman confirmed it was safe to continue the descent.[5]

When Armstrong again looked outside, he saw that the computer's landing target was in a boulder-strewn area just north and east of a 300 metres (980 ft) diameter crater. Armstrong took semi-automatic control[6] and, with Aldrin calling out altitude and velocity data, landed at 20:17:40 UTC on July 20 with about 25 seconds of fuel left.[2]

Charles Duke, acting as CAPCOM (capsule communicator) during the landing phase, acknowledged their landing by saying "We copy you down, Eagle." Armstrong acknowledged Aldrin's completion of the post landing checklist with "Engine arm is off," before responding to Duke with the words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
Duke mispronounced his reply as he expressed the relief at Mission Control: "Roger, Twan-- Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."[2][7]

On the surface

At 02:39 UTC on Monday July 21, 1969, Armstrong opened the hatch, and at 02:51 UTC began his descent to the lunar surface. Climbing down the nine-rung ladder, Armstrong pulled a D-ring to deploy the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA) folded against Eagle's side and activate the TV camera, and at 02:56:15 UTC he set his left foot on the surface.[10][11]

Original footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing including Neil Armstrong's first step onto the Moon's surface

Despite some technical and weather difficulties, ghostly black and white images of the first lunar EVA were received and broadcast to at least 600 million people on Earth.[12]
As Armstrong stepped off Eagle's footpad he uttered his famous line:

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"

NB: Armstrong claims to have said "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" when he first set foot on the lunar surface. The "a" is not clear in NASA recordings but the audio and video links back to earth were somewhat intermittent. More recent digital analysis of the tape by NASA revealed the "a" may have been spoken but obscured by static.[8][9]

Armstrong snapped photos of the LM so engineers would be able to judge its post-landing condition. He removed the TV camera from the MESA and made a panoramic sweep, then mounted it on a tripod 68 feet (21 m) from the LM. The TV camera cable remained partly coiled and presented a tripping hazard throughout the EVA.

Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Armstrong to photograph both of them using the visor's reflection

Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Armstrong to photograph both of them using the visor's reflection

During their two and a half hours outside the spacecraft Armstrong and Aldrin collected 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar material for return to Earth.

Armstrong said that moving in the lunar gravity, one-sixth of Earth's, was "even perhaps easier than the simulations... It's absolutely no trouble to walk around."[11] Aldrin joined him on the surface and tested methods for moving around, including two-footed kangaroo hops. The Portable Life Support System (PLSS) backpack created a tendency to tip backwards, but neither astronaut had serious problems maintaining balance. Loping became the preferred method of movement.

The astronauts planted a specially designed U.S. flag on the lunar surface, in clear view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House."[13]

After more than 2.5 hours on the lunar surface Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the lunar module. The astronauts lightened the ascent stage by tossing out their PLSS backpacks, lunar overshoes, one Hasselblad camera, and other equipment. They then pressurized the LM, and settled down to sleep.[14]

After about seven hours of rest, the crew was awakened by Houston to prepare for the return flight. Two and a half hours later, at 17:54 UTC, they lifted off in Eagle's ascent stage to rejoin CMP Michael Collins aboard Columbia in lunar orbit.

The astronauts left behind scientific instruments that included a retroreflector array used for the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment and a Passive Seismic Experiment Package used to measure moonquakes. They also left an American flag, an Apollo 1 mission patch, and a plaque (mounted on the LM Descent Stage ladder) bearing two drawings of Earth (of the Western and Eastern Hemispheres), an inscription, and signatures of the astronauts and President Nixon. The inscription read:

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.

They also left behind a memorial bag including a gold replica of an olive branch as a traditional symbol of peace and a silicon message disk. The disk carries the goodwill statements by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon and messages from leaders of 73 countries around the world.

Splashdown and quarantine

On July 24 the Command Module Columbia carrying the astronauts landed in the Pacific Ocean 2,660 km (1,440 nmi) east of Wake Island, 380 km (210 nmi) south of Johnston Atoll, and 24 km (13 nmi) from the recovery ship, USS Hornet.[1]

Columbia floats on the ocean as Navy divers assist in retrieving the astronauts

Columbia floats on the ocean as Navy divers assist in retrieving the astronauts

A Sea King helicopter hoisted the astronauts aboard one by one, where a NASA flight surgeon gave each a brief physical check during the 0.5 nautical miles (930 m) trip back to the Hornet.

After touchdown on the Hornet, the astronauts entered the Mobile Quarantine Facility where they would begin their 21 days of quarantine. This practice would continue for two more Apollo missions, Apollo 12 and Apollo 14, before the Moon was proven to be barren of life and the quarantine process dropped.

The crew of Apollo 11 in quarantine after returning to Earth, visited by President Nixon

The crew of Apollo 11 in quarantine after returning to Earth, visited by President Nixon

After almost three weeks in confinement (first in their trailer and later in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Manned Spacecraft Center), the astronauts were given a clean bill of health [15] and on August 10, 1969, exited quarantine.

Test your knowledge

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Discover more

Reading

The Space Race

The Apollo program

Human spaceflight

Video

The Eagle Has Landed : The Flight of Apollo 11 & Neil Armstrong Landing On The Moon - 1969

Discussion

Was it worth the money spent?

In 2009, NASA held a symposium on project costs which presented an estimate of the Apollo program costs in 2005 dollars as roughly $170 billion.[16] Some people argue this money was well spent because of the increased knowledge and technological innovations which emerged from the program. But others think this money could have been better spent, eg on medical research or alleviating poverty around the world. See Apollo 11 Anniversary: Debate Continues (ABC News article).

Write a short essay outlining what you think, and why.

Were the Moon landings faked?

Some people believe that the moon landings were faked, and cite various pieces of evidence in support of so-called "conspiracy theories"

The Wikipedia article Moon landing conspiracy theories summarizes the main evidence suggesting the moon landings were faked, along with rebuttals.

These videos present evidence suggesting the landings were faked

Science proves that NASA faked the moon landings - Moon landing Hoax

Andrew Johnson on the Apollo Conspiracy

There is a huge amount of other material available on the Web on this subject, try searching Google for "moon landing hoax", "moon landing conspiracy" etc.

Review the evidence for both sides of the debate, and decide what you believe. Write a short essay trying to convince someone who holds the opposite opinion.

References

  1. Orloff, Richard W. (September 2004) [First published 2000]. Table of Contents. "Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference". NASA History Division, Office of Policy and Plans. NASA History Series (Washington, D.C.: NASA). ISBN 0-16-050631-X. LCCN 00-061677. NASA SP-2000-4029. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
  2. Jones, Eric M., ed. (1995). "The First Lunar Landing". Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  3. Orloff, Richard W. (September 2004) [First published 2000]. Apollo 11 Timeline. "Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference". NASA History Division, Office of Policy and Plans. NASA History Series (Washington, D.C.: NASA). ISBN 0-16-050631-X. LCCN 00-061677. NASA SP-2000-4029. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  4. "Apollo-11 (27)". Historical Archive for Manned Missions. NASA. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  5. Collins, Michael; Aldrin, Edwin E., Jr. (1975). "A Yellow Caution Light". In Cortright, Edgar M. Apollo Expeditions to the Moon. Washington, D.C.: NASA. OCLC 1623434. NASA SP-350. Retrieved June 13, 2013. Chapter 11.4.
  6. Mindell, David A. (2008). Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 195–197. ISBN 978-0-262-13497-2. LCCN 2007032255.
  7. "James May speaks to Charles Duke". BBC Archives. Perivale: BBC. 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2009.
  8. Adams, Cecil. "Did astronaut Neil Armstrong muff his historic "one small step" line?".
  9. Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "One Small Step" at Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  10. Duggan, Paul (August 25, 2012). "Neil Armstrong, first man to step on the Moon, dies at 82". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  11. Jones, Eric M., ed. (1995). "One Small Step". Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  12. Sarkissian, John M. (2001). "On Eagle's Wings: The Parkes Observatory's Support of the Apollo 11 Mission" (PDF). Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia (Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing for the Astronomical Society of Australia) 18 (3): 287–310.
  13. "Exhibit: Apollo 11 and Nixon". American Originals. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. March 1996. Retrieved April 13, 2008.
  14. Jones, Eric M., ed. (1995). "Trying to Rest". Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  15. "A Front Row Seat For History". NASAexplores. NASA. July 15, 2004. Archived from the original on March 19, 2006. Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  16. Butts, Glenn; Linton, Kent (April 28, 2009). "The Joint Confidence Level Paradox: A History of Denial"2009 NASA Cost Symposium. Cost Analysis Division. pp. 25–26

This lesson uses material from Wikipedia, in particular the article Apollo 11, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

All images are public domain.