MOON LANDING. On 16 July 1969, half a million people gathered near Cape Canaveral (then Cape Kennedy), Florida. Their attention was focused on three astronauts—Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins—who lay in the couches of an Apollo spacecraft bolted atop a Saturn V launch vehicle, awaiting ignition of five clustered rocket engines to boost them toward the first lunar landing. This event took place eight years after President John F. Kennedy, in the wake of Soviet Sputnik and Vostok successes, issued a challenge to land men on the moon before 1970 and thus give the United States preeminence in space exploration. After twenty manned missions—two to the vicinity of the moon
itself—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was ready to achieve that goal.
At 9:32 a.m., the Apollo 11 crew fired the 200,000-pound-thrust Saturn S-IVB stage to escape earth's gravitational field. On their way to the moon, the astronauts monitored systems, ate, and slept. Several times via television they showed scenes of the receding earth and their own cabin activities.
Early Saturday afternoon (19 July), the crew slowed their ship while on the back side of the moon to enter lunar orbit. Following this maneuver, Aldrin slid through a passageway into the lunar module, called Eagle, to test its systems and then returned to the command module Columbia so that he and the other crew members could sleep before the descent to the lunar surface.
On Sunday, Armstrong and Aldrin cut loose from the command module and headed toward the surface of the moon. Armstrong set the craft down at 4:17 p.m. (EDT), reporting, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Six and one-half hours later, after donning a protective suit and life-sustaining backpack, Armstrong climbed down and set foot on lunar soil, saying, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon followed. Half a billion people watched on television as the two astronauts moved about on the lunar surface with its gravity one-sixth that of earth's.
While on the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong and Aldrin deployed a television camera, raised the American flag, collected about forty-seven pounds of samples, talked with President Richard M. Nixon, set up scientific equipment, and gave millions of listeners a description of their experiences. After two hours of exploring, they returned to the lunar module, rested for eight hours, and then started the engine of the ascent stage to rejoin Collins, who was orbiting the moon in Columbia, late Monday afternoon. Discarding the Eagle, the astronauts fired the service module engine shortly after noon the next day to escape the lunar gravitational field for the return to earth.
Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, 24 July, a week and a day (195 hours) after departing the Florida launch site. The astronauts, greeted by Nixon aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, were kept in quarantine for sixteen days because scientists feared the introduction of pathogens from outer space (none was found).
Launius, Roger D. NASA: A History of the U.S. Civil Space Program. Malabar, Fla.: Krieger, 1994.
Lewis, Richard S. Appointment on the Moon. New York: Viking, 1969.
McDougall, Walter A. The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
James M.Grimwood/a. r.