On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon. It was the first time that man had ever stepped foot on a celestial body other than Earth. Neil Armstrong took the first step onto Earth's largest satellite (the moon, that is), and Aldrin followed 19 minutes later.
The two men spent a total of 21.5 hours on the lunar surface before getting back into their spacecraft and into orbit. This historical moment captivated America and the world. Some people thought (and still think) that the whole thing was a conspiracy. Others saw the moon landing as evidence of a new era. Keep reading to learn even more about what happened that fateful day.
The Objectives Of Apollo 11
In 1961, eight years before Apollo 11 took off, President John F. Kennedy set the goal for Apollo 11. The team was supposed to perform a crewed lunar landing and then return to Earth.
This particular space mission had other goals, too. The lunar module was supposed to collect samples and deploy several experiment packages. The crew was also tasked with deploying a television camera to send images of the lunar landing back to Earth.
The Timeline Was Quick
On July 16th at exactly 13:32:00 UTC, Apollo 11 took off into space. On July 18, Armstrong and Aldrin put on their spacesuits and climbed through the docking tunnel to check on their Eagle lunar module.
On July 19, Apollo 11 flew behind the moon so that the Eagle lunar module would be able to enter the moon's orbit. On July 20, NASA's Eagle lunar module left the main spacecraft and landed on the moon. It actually landed four miles from where the crew initially planned, and it landed 90 seconds earlier than they thought it would.
What They Took With Them
Each astronaut on Apollo 11 took a personal preference kit to the moon. These were small bags that held items of personal significance. Neil Armstrong's personal preference kit (or PPK) included a piece of wood from a Wright Brothers plane as well as a piece of fabric from its wing.
Armstrong also packed his diamond-encrusted astronaut pin that was originally given to astronaut Deke Slayton by one of the widows of the Apollo 1 crew.
How They Chose The Landing Site
NASA appointed an Apollo Site Selection Board to figure out exactly where the Eagle should land on the moon. On February 8th, 1968, they announced five potential landing sites based on two years worth of research.
The site had to be flat, free of debris, and it had to be close to the lunar equator to conserve fuel. Safety was the top priority and scientific value wasn't considered at all. The point of this mission was to get men on, and even more importantly off, the moon.
How They Decided Who Got To Walk On The Moon First
Two men flew the lunar module to the surface of the moon, but only one could receive the title of the first man to actually walk on the moon. During a press conference, a reporter asked the Apollo 11 crew, "Which one of you gentlemen will be the first man to step onto the lunar surface?"
Slayton responded that the decision was "not based on individual desire." Ultimately, Armstrong got to leave the spacecraft first because he was positioned closest to the exit. When Aldrin tried to leave first in a simulation, he ended up damaging some equipment while trying to squeeze past Armstrong.
What Happened To All Of The Moon Rocks?
The Apollo 11 team collected 22 kilograms of material from the moon including 50 rocks, samples of lunar "soil," and material from below the Moon's surface. The moon rocks they collected are now held mostly in the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
There is also a smaller collection of rocks that's kept at a test facility in New Mexico. The moon rocks are stored in nitrogen and are only handled with special tools.
Nixon Had A Plan Just In Case Disaster Struck
President Nixon knew that there was a good possibility that these astronauts wouldn't return home safely. He actually wrote a speech just in case disaster struck.
It read: "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice."
How Many People Watched?
Apollo 11 carried Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin into Earth's orbit. Collins stayed aboard a larger spacecraft in Earth's orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon.
On July 20th, an estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong as he stepped out of the lunar module and described the event to the entire world. He famously narrated that he took "...one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Nixon Gave Out Some Of The Moon Dust As Gifts
In November 1969, President Nixon asked NASA to make up about 250 presentations of Apollo 11 lunar sample displays. These sample displays were made of 50 mg of moon soil encased in a clear acrylic disc. Nixon gave these displays to 135 nations, the United Nations, and each of the fifty American states as goodwill gifts in 1970.
Imagine being able to see the moon soil in person. It's literally out of this world.
Who Took All The Pictures?
Astronaut Neil Armstrong took almost all of the still photographs of the lunar landing in 1969. Buzz Aldrin got to be in all of the pictures because Neil was behind the camera. There are only a few photos of Armstrong on the moon's surface.
This just happened by accident, but it doesn't matter too much because they're both in the video, and you can't tell who's who with those big helmets on anyway. Plus, Armstrong did get to walk on the moon first.
NASA Lost A Lot Of The Tapes Of The Moon Landing
NASA may have been smart enough to put men on the moon, but somehow, they still managed to lose track of all of that valuable moon landing footage. They lost 11 tapes of Buzz and Neil strutting their stuff on the moon's surface.
The only footage we have of the moment Neil Armstrong actually steps onto the surface of the moon is a recording of a monitor that's playing the original tape.
Neil And Buzz Asked Permission To Skip Their Nap
When you're dealing with leaving the Earth's atmosphere, schedules are of the utmost importance. Buzz and Neil even had scheduled daily naps during their time on Apollo 11. Both of these astronauts were so eager to walk on the moon on the day of the moon landing that they called mission control to ask if they could skip their scheduled nap.
They got permission, but only on the condition that they went to sleep as soon as they got back in the spacecraft.
The Astronauts Were Quarantined When They Got Back To Earth
Back in 1969, scientists couldn't be sure that there were no forms of life on the moon. Just in case the astronauts had come in contact with some kind of moon bacteria, Buzz, Neil, and Michael Collins were required to spend 21 days quarantined in an Airstream trailer when they returned to Earth.
The same thing happened after the Apollo 12 and Apollo 14 missions. Once the moon was proven to be free of life, nobody who went there had to be quarantined anymore upon returning to Earth.
The Mission Didn't Always Go Smoothly
During the moon landing, some of the systems onboard the Eagle malfunctioned and astronaut Neil Armstrong had to take over the process manually. Luckily, he had been trained for situations exactly like this one.
He made the landing with 23 seconds to spare. If it had taken him just 23 seconds longer, the Eagle would have run out of fuel. This goes to show how important their rigorous training was.
The Rocket That Got Them There
Apollo 11, as well as other Apollo spacecraft, were launched out of the Earth's atmosphere by the Saturn V rocket. To this day, the Saturn V rocket is still the largest rocket to ever successfully launch. It weighs over 6.5 million pounds.
Saturn V is also one of the safest rockets that NASA's ever built. The rocket never lost a crew member or a payload while it was in use between 1967 and 1973.
While the Apollo 11 was in space, Buzz Aldrin accidentally damaged a crucial circuit breaker while he was moving around in the cabin. Luckily, Neil Armstrong is a regular MacGyver in space. He found a pen lying around and inserted the pointy end in the circuit breaker's hole.
That pen held up all the way back to Earth. These astronauts are smart people, but nothing can replace strong gut instincts and a cool head in a crisis.
Why They Left A Mirror On The Moon
Neil and Buzz actually left over 100 items on the moon including a commemorative plaque, a gold replica of an olive branch, moon boots, a camera, urine containers, air-sickness bags, and an American flag, of course.
They also installed a mirror on the moon's surface so that people on Earth could shine a laser at the moon and time how long it takes the beam to get back to us. Now we can figure out the distance between Earth and the moon at all times.
The Design Of The Emblem
The Apollo 11 mission emblem was designed by Apollo 11's command module pilot, Michael Collins. He wanted a symbol for "peaceful lunar landing by the United States".
That's why he chose a bald eagle, America's national bird, with an olive branch in its mouth as the symbol. Collins and the rest of the astronauts also decided not to put their names on the patch so that it would "be representative of everyone who had worked toward a lunar landing".
Naming The Lunar Module
When it came to naming the vessel that would carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon's surface, the astronauts got pretty creative. They proposed some goofy names like "Snowcone" and "Haystack" before NASA told them to stop clowning around and get serious. Apparently, "Snowcone" isn't an appropriate name for a spacecraft that's going to end up in history books.
Eventually, NASA settled on Eagle for the lunar module and Columbia for the bigger vessel.
Other Lunar Missions
The moon is 225,623 miles from Earth. It took Apollo 11 4 days, 6 hours, and 45 minutes to get to the moon. So far, only 12 human beings have walked on the lunar surface, and 24 astronauts have traveled from Earth to the moon.
Three NASA astronauts have even traveled to the moon twice: James Lovell (Apollo 8 and Apollo 13), John Young (Apollo 10 and Apollo 16) and Gene Cernan (Apollo 10 and Apollo 17).