On May 25, 1961,
President John F. Kennedy, addressing a special session of
Congress, threw down the gauntlet. He boldly challenged
the assembled lawmakers: “I believe 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.” At the time of Kennedy's speech, the United
States had accumulated exactly 15 minutes, 22 seconds of
human spaceflight experience.
363-foot-tall Apollo 11 space vehicle is launched from Pad
A, Launch Complex 39.
Kennedy Space Centre, at 9:32 a.m. (EDT), July 16, 1969.
Onboard the Apollo 11 were astronauts
Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command
module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module
Kennedy's proposal was
daunting in its technical complexity, but by the late fall
of 1961, according to Robert Gilruth, who had led the
Apollo program at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Centre near
Houston, the team had agreed on a lunar-orbit rendezvous.
By the autumn of 1961, contracts had already been awarded
to North American Aviation (later Rockwell) for the
construction of the 34.5-foot (10.5-meter)-tall Apollo
Command and Services Modules (CSM), the spacecraft that
would carry three astronauts on their eight-day lunar
Rocket engineer Wernher
von Braun, already at work since the late 1950s on a
powerful new rocket named Saturn, began developing in
January 1962 the largest launch vehicle ever to fly
successfully, the 363-foot (111-meter)-tall three-stage
Saturn 5, its rocket engines capable of producing 7.76
million pounds (34.5 million newtons) of thrust. The
Saturn 5 would be preceded by the comparatively smaller
Saturn 1 and its larger offspring, the Saturn 1B, standing
224-feet (68-meters) tall and capable of producing 1.64
million pounds (7.3 million Newtons) of thrust, to be used
for un-crewed spacecraft testing and the first
Earth-orbiting piloted Apollo missions.
The most significant
disagreements involved the best method of going to the
Moon. The “direct ascent” approach, which was quickly
abandoned, involved a single launch of a massive rocket to
fly directly to the Moon and land. The
Earth-orbit-rendezvous, initially favoured by Von Braun and
others at NASA, required launches of dual Saturn 5s that
docked together in Earth orbit. Fuel would be pumped from
one into the other, and the fully fuelled rocket would
ignite on its mission to the Moon.
However, by early 1962,
the radical lunar-orbit-rendezvous (LOR), championed by
NASA engineer John C. Houbolt, was gaining popularity. LOR
would require the launch of one Saturn 5 carrying a CSM
and a separate lunar landing craft into Earth orbit. The
CSM would dock with the landing craft, extract it from a
protected compartment on the upper stage of the Saturn 5,
and then fire an onboard engine to propel the combination
to the Moon. The landing craft would separate and descend
to the lunar surface carrying the astronauts. Following
the lunar surface exploration, the upper portion of the
lander would launch itself up to the orbiting CSM, dock so
the astronauts could return to the CSM, and then be
discarded before the CSM's return to Earth. After
considerable debate, this approach was officially selected
on July 30, 1962.
On November 7, 1962, NASA
awarded a contract to Grumman Aircraft for the
construction of the 23-foot (7-meter)-tall, spider-legged
Lunar Module (LM), capable of carrying two astronauts to
the Moon's surface and returning them to lunar orbit.
Project Apollo required
construction of facilities to build the Saturn, and for
mission control and astronaut training, as well as for
design of the spacecraft and rockets. Four years of
intensive effort and $800 million were spent to construct
the immense Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex
39 on Florida's Merritt Island (adjacent to Cape
Canaveral) as well as the mission control and astronaut
training facilities at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now
the Johnson Space Centre) near Houston, Texas.
On May 28, 1964, just
three years after Kennedy's pledge, a Saturn 1 rocket
lifted off from Cape Kennedy carrying the first Apollo
into Earth orbit. Four more Saturn 1's were launched in
1964 and 1965 on additional CSM tests and carrying
payloads to investigate the effects of micrometeoroids. A
Saturn 1B carried the first operational Apollo CSM into
orbit on February 26, 1966, followed by the first LM test
flight on January 22, 1968.
Apollo's darkest hour
occurred on January 27, 1967, during a routine ground test
for Apollo 1, the first crewed Apollo mission. Astronauts
Vigil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were
killed when a spark from an exposed wire ignited a
firestorm in the pure oxygen atmosphere of the sealed
spacecraft, asphyxiating all three astronauts within
Close-up view of the exterior of Apollo 012 Command Module
at Pad 34
showing the effects of the intense heat of the flash fire
that killed the prime crew
of the Apollo/Saturn 204 mission. Astronauts Virgil I.
Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee lost
their lives in the accidental fire.
After an almost 19-month
flight hiatus, on October 11, 1968, a Saturn 1B rocket
launched Apollo 7 with astronauts Walter Schirra, Donn
Eisele, and Walter Cunningham on a successful test of the
redesigned Apollo CSM.
The first crewed Saturn 5
flight lifted off on December 21, 1968, with the Apollo 8
spacecraft carrying astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell,
and William Anders on a three-day journey to the Moon. The
three became the first humans to travel beyond the
influence of Earth's gravity and view the Moon up close.
On Christmas Eve 1968, they read from the book of Genesis
while broadcasting live television images of the lunar
surface to a worldwide audience.
Apollos 9 and 10 were
launched in early 1969 to test equipment and practice
procedures for the lunar mission. Apollo 9 astronauts
James McDivitt, Russell Schweickart, and David Scott
carried out an Earth orbital test of the CSM. Apollo 10
astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan
flew a “dress rehearsal” of the first lunar landing
mission, with Stafford and Cernan descending to within
50,000 feet (14,240 meters) of the Moon's surface.
Apollo 11 lifted off on
the first expedition to explore another celestial body on
July 16, 1969. After a three-day journey, astronauts Neil
Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin undocked the Eagle from
the CSM Columbia, piloted by Michael Collins, and
descended to the lunar surface, softly landing on the
Moon's Sea of Tranquility.
Astronaut Edwin E.
Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing
poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States
flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA)
on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module is on the left, and
the footprints of the astronauts
are clearly visible in the soil of the Moon, July 20,
On July 20,
1969, Armstrong planted the first human footprint on the
Moon, declaring for posterity, “That's one small step for
(a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin
spent about 2 hours exploring the lunar surface, deploying
experiments, and collecting samples of rocks and soil. The
dream had been accomplished, five months before the
deadline set by President Kennedy.
conducted the second human Moon landing in November 1969,
as astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Alan Bean landed
on the Ocean of Storms, only 600 feet (183 meters) from
the un-crewed Surveyor 3 spacecraft that had touched down
31 months earlier. Conrad and Bean conducted two
“moonwalks,” or Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs),
totalling about 7 hours on the lunar surface. Astronaut
Richard Gordon piloted Apollo 12's CSM Yankee Clipper.
suffered a catastrophic explosion in a Service Module
oxygen tank at about the midpoint of its lunar journey on
April 13, 1970, but the three astronauts, James Lovell,
Fred W. Haise, and John L. Swigert, safely returned to
Earth through the heroic efforts of their ground support
team in Houston. The lunar module remained attached to the
CSM Odyssey and served as a lifeboat as the astronauts
used its life support systems and rocket engine to limp
pioneer Alan B. Shepard commanded the Apollo 14 mission to
the Moon in February 1971. Stuart Roosa piloted the CSM
Kitty Hawk. Shepard and Edgar Mitchell landed on the
Moon's Fra Mauro region and spent almost ten hours working
on the lunar surface during two EVAs.
lunar “automobile” was used on Apollo 15, during
July-August 1971, as astronauts David Scott and James
Irwin drove the battery-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle (or
“rover”) during three EVAs along Hadley Rille, at the base
of the Moon's Apennine Mountains. Scott and Irwin
conducted three EVAs, totalling more than 18 hours on the
lunar surface, as Alfred Worden orbited above in the
in April 1972, made the second use of the lunar rover as
astronauts John Young and Charles Duke explored the Moon's
Descartes highlands, 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) above
lunar “sea level.” Thomas Mattingly piloted the CSM
Casper, and Young and Duke spent more than 20 hours
exploring the lunar surface after making another pinpoint
landing in the LM.
lunar expedition, Apollo 17 in December 1972, was also the
most ambitious. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison
“Jack” Schmitt, a geologist, landed in the Taurus-Littrow
valley of the Moon's Sea of Serenity, only 300 feet from
the target zone. Cernan and Schmitt spend about 22 hours
on the lunar surface, driving almost 21 miles (34
kilometres) in their “rover” during three EVAs as
astronaut Ronald Evans orbited above.
In all, 12
American astronauts left their footprints in the lunar
soil during Project Apollo. Three additional lunar landing
missions, Apollos 18 through 20, were cancelled after a
series of congressional budget cuts even though the
required hardware had already been constructed and paid
842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar rock and soil were
collected, sophisticated lunar surface experiment stations
were deployed, and thousands of photographs were taken
during the six lunar landing missions, yielding a wealth
of scientific data that is still being analyzed today.
Apollo's total cost (in 1968 dollars): $24 billion.
Apollo Test Flights and missions
Donn F. Eisele
manned Apollo mission to fly. Made 163 orbits of
James A. Lovell, Jr.
William A. Anders
occupied launch of Saturn V. Looped around moon on
David R. Scott
Russell R. Schweikart
manned test of Lunar Module. Made 151 orbits of Earth.
John W. Young
Eugene A. Cernan
moon. Lunar Module dropped to within 9 miles of Lunar
Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin
Lunar landing. Landed on moon with less than 30
seconds of fuel remaining. Took core samples. Planted
Richard F. Gordon, Jr.
Alan L. Bean
lightning during launch. Landed near, and returned
parts of, old Surveyor 3 probe.
Fred W. Haise, Jr.
John L. Sweigert. Jr.
Houston, we've had a problem here. O2 tank
blew up; Used LM as a lifeboat which got them safely
around moon and home.
Edgar D. Mitchell
Stuart A. Roosa
scientific experiments. Astronauts almost got lost
when lunar landscape became disorienting.
James B. Irwin
Alfred M. Worden
of Lunar Rover. Astronauts rode over 27 kilometres.
First Apollo space walk.
Thomas K. Mattingly II
Charles M. Duke, Jr.
Malfunction almost scrubbed landing. Stayed 3 days,
got Lunar Rover up to almost 18 kph.
Ronald E. Evans
Harrison H. Schmitt
on the moon (so far).
Click on the red flight numbers for a detailed
description of the mission