On this day, July 20, 1969, at 4:17:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time the following words were heard around the world: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Electricity was in the air, the control room at the Cape was breathless; then pandemonium erupted as the world realized what had just taken place — something only envisioned by novelists — a man had landed on the moon!
The rocket was named the Saturn V. Sitting on the launch pad it was 364 feet tall and 33 feet in diameter, the tallest rocket vehicle ever launched. When fueled it weighed in at 6.5 million pounds, the heaviest ever launched. It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds into low earth orbit, the largest payload ever launched. These three records stand to this day.
The Saturn V consisted of three stages with the first weighing in at 5.1 million pounds when fueled. The purpose of the first stage was to lift the launch vehicle through the first 220,000 feet of ascent before being jettisoned. The first stage, built by the Boeing company, developed 7.5 million pounds of thrust when the five F-1 engines were ignited.
Stage two, weighing slightly over a million pounds, then ignited its five J-2 engines and carried the rest of the vehicle through the earth’s upper atmosphere, at which point its engines burned out and were jettisoned. This stage of the rocket was developed by North American Aviation.
Stage three, built by Douglas Aircraft Company, was then used for the orbit insertion engine burn to enter into an orbit around the earth, and then again for the translunar insertion burn to send the crew on its way to the moon. Once stage three was jettisoned all that would remain of the spacecraft would be the Command Service Module (CSM) built by North American Aviation, and the Lunar Module (LM) — code-named Eagle — built by Grumman. In reality, the CSM consisted of two pieces — the Command Module (CM) containing the three-man crew, and the Service Module (SM), which provided power, support systems, and the engine required by the CM to enter and leave the moon’s orbit.
On July 16, 1969, the gigantic Saturn V rocket sat on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In just seconds the three-man crew of Apollo 11 — Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Command Module pilot Michael Collins — would be on their way to making history. All three astronauts were veterans of other space flight missions. The mission of this space flight was to put the first man on the moon, a goal set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961. At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the five enormous F-1 engines on the Saturn V ignited, and the astronauts were on their way with Mission Control in Houston, Texas, orchestrating the mission.
Descent to the Moon
On July 20, 1969, the Eagle separated from Columbia, the Eagle‘s lifeline home. Mike Collins then gave the Eagle a visual inspection from Columbia‘s window to verify that no damage had occurred to the LM in the process of getting it to the moon. After receiving the GO to proceed, the Eagle started the first burn to take the LM down to a lower orbit of the moon. What the astronauts did not realize was that the cabin had not fully depressurized when separating from Columbia. This resulted in an unexpected release of pressurized gas that gave the Eagle a little extra boost of energy that would put the Eagle “long” when it reached the moon’s surface.
At 20:05 UT, the Eagle ignited its engine to begin a 756.3-second burn that would start the final descent to the moon’s surface. Communications with Mission Control become problematic, with Columbia at times relaying messages to the Eagle as it descended. Not exactly an ideal situation for handling split-second decisions.
Approximately five minutes into the burn and 6000 feet above the surface a series of alarms from the navigation and guidance computer began to occur, having the potential to distract the crew. Alarms “1202” and “1201” showed that the navigation and guidance computer were being overtaxed. Luckily for the crew, this exact series of unexpected alarms was practiced under simulation by Mission Control in Houston prior to the mission with the dreaded (and wrong) abort call being made. What Mission Control learned in simulation was that all they needed to do in such a situation was to verify the data they had available and wait until the computer could catch up. The call to continue the descent was quickly given; the ground team had saved the mission for the moment.
As the crew approached the surface, looking out of the window, Neil Armstrong realized that their intended landing zone was a boulder field, and that landing at that location would be impossible. He took semi-automated control of the lander with Buzz Aldrin calling out altitude and velocity. The “long” landing was about to get longer. The resources required for this solution were about to become critical — fuel remaining could be measured in seconds.
Mission Control, now using a paper chart recorder that would measure throttle time usage, was guesstimating the amount of time that remained before fuel would run out. Every time Neil Armstrong used his landing control, Mission Control would look at the length of the burn and make an estimate of the fuel used during that burn. Then from that data, an estimate of the fuel remaining was made, a technique practiced and apparently perfected in training by Mission Control. The following dialog commenced:
“Sixty seconds.” (the fuel remaining)
“Stand by for thirty seconds, thirty seconds.”
(Nothing; all was quiet.)
“Forty feet, picking up some dust. Thirty feet, seeing a shadow.”
“Fifteen sec….” (The sentence remained uncompleted.)
(After a long pause, one of the 67-inch probes hanging from the Eagle’s footpads touched the surface.)
(Three seconds later:)
“Okay. Engine Stop, ACA—out of detent.”
“Out of detent.”
“Mode control—both auto. Descent command engine override—off. Engine arm—off.”
“413 is in.”
DUKE IN MISSION CONTROL
“We copy you down, Eagle.”
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Of course, six hours after landing, Neil Armstrong would be the first man to set foot on the moon, uttering the immortal words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The entire crew safely returned home July 24th.
JFK Sets Goal for Man on the Moon
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The Eagle Has Landed: The Flight of Apollo 11
NASA 1969 documentary.
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What Was the Apollo Program?
Brief explanation for younger students from NASA.
Interactive summary from the Air and Space Museum. Follow the links at the bottom of the page for great detail.
Building a Moon Rocket
Great information about the Saturn V from the Air and Space Museum.
Saturn V Technical Drawings
For those with an especially avid interest.
Apollo 11 Saturn V Image Gallery
“The assembly and rollout of the Saturn V rocket that carried man to his first landing on the moon.”
Timeline with photos and sound clips. From The History Place.
Apollo 11 Image Gallery
Training, launch, landing, moonwalk, quarantine from NASA.
Apollo 11 Timeline
Complete from NASA.
Apollo 11 Series – Google Moon
Interactive moon map of 18 significant moon locations associated with the mission.
Apollo 11 NASA Flight Plan
From the National Archives.
Tales from the Lunar Module Guidance Computer
Discusses some of the problems Apollo 11 had to overcome. Includes diagram of LM and explanations of how the guidance system worked.
Astronaut Bio: Neil Armstrong
Astronaut Bio: Buzz Aldrin
Astronaut Bio: Michael Collins
Apollo 11 Mission Report
The complete (326 pages) report from NASA.
First Men on the Moon
Excellent interactive featuring the Eagle lunar landing using actual footage, audio, and more!
Apollo 11 Walking on the Moon
Wonderful interactive site from Smithsonian with video, audio, and activities.
Tour the Apollo 11 Command Module!
Great interactive at the Smithsonian.
Armstrong: The First Man Walking on the Moon
Panoramic photo slide show from JPL.
United States Moon Landing Worksheet
Great way to wrap up. From NASA.
On the Moon
A 52-page download from PBS/NASA that poses six challenges. Includes parts lists, instructions, discussion questions, and curriculum connections for each activity.
Rocket Science 101
Using balloons, straws and fishing line, students test Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Saturn V Straw Rocket
Build your own model rocket. Includes templates, nice photos, and lesson plans. For younger students at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Build a Bubble-Powered Rocket
Instructions (and how it works) from NASA.
Model Rocket Plans
Includes model plans for Saturn I and Saturn IV. It may take some initiative and persistence, but where there’s a will…. For older students.
The First Lunar Landing : As Told By The Astronauts by Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins
Complete mission story in their own words.
Neil Armstrong: Young Flyer by Montrew Dunham
This biography for younger readers from the Childhood of Famous Americans Series is particularly well done.
Reaching for the Moon by Buzz Aldrin
Beautifully illustrated picture book for younger children tells the astronaut’s story from childhood to liftoff. Includes timeline of flight in the back.
Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
America’s Space Program: Exploring a New Frontier
Lesson plan from the National Park Service includes background information, readings, maps, and several activities.
40-page lesson plan from NASA covering propulsion. Includes background information, timeline, charts, images, four rocket activities, and student worksheets.
Space Exploration Merit Badge Worksheet
7-page download with questions pertaining to Apollo 11 from the U.S.S. Hornet.
Space Exploration Merit Badge Workbook
7-page download for Boy Scout merit badge, but great for anyone with an interest.
16-page download from NASA covering calculating the distance from the moon, the diameter of the moon, and making predictions about lunar rocks.
Celebrating Apollo: Race to Space
12-page download from NASA that encourages older students to develop an essay based on 10 primary source documents to answer the question: “To what extent did the ‘race to space’ from 1957-1969 reflect political, social, and economic aspects of the Cold War?”
Printables & Notebooking Pages
Saturn V Rocket Diagram
Great for notebooking page.
Apollo CSM Diagram
Command Service Module diagram.
Apollo 11 Drawings and Technical Diagrams
Other pages that might be of use.
Neil Armstrong Notebook Page
Buzz Aldrin Notebook Page
Apollo 11 Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.