Throughout the Cold War, which spanned between 1947 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union, entered what is referred to today as the space race. Both superpowers wanted to prove themselves superior by being the first to explore the unknown world of outer space.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviets raised the bar when they launched the first man-made object into the Earth’s orbit. The object, named Sputnik (Russian for “traveler”), was an artificial satellite and it was exactly the motivation that Americans needed to step up their game.
The Next Frontier
In 1958, the U.S. launched a satellite of their own called Explorer I. In that same year, Eisenhower approved the creation of the first federal agency dedicated to space exploration.
With the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program, the U.S was ready to fully explore the next frontier and it was imperative that they did so before their adversaries.
A Close Race
In 1959, the American’s launched Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon. Soon after in 1961, Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth. The U.S then launched project Mercury, and on May 5, 1961, American astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space.
Soon after Shepard’s launch to space, President John F. Kennedy made the bold announcement that the U.S would succeed in landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. No pressure right?
A Navy test subject demonstrates the flexibility of an inflatable Project Mercury spacesuit. The subject plays a game of softball to show the potential range of motion that astronauts will maintain in space.
Spacesuits have evolved immensely over the years. The suit worn by Alan Shepard on the first U.S. suborbital was simply an adaptation of a high altitude pressure suit used by jet aircraft U.S Navy officers.
Love You to the Moon and Back
Rene Carpenter, Annie Glenn, Jo Schirra, Betty Grissom, Marjorie Slayton, and Trudy Cooper sit for some afternoon Ice Tea in Virginia 1959.
These women are the wives of Project Mercury astronauts. Annie’s husband, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962.
The Real Rocketmen
By the end of Project Mercury in May 1963, both the U.S and the Soviet Union had sent six people into space. With Project Apollo lunar landing program underway, America was looking to break that tie.
Six years following the assassination of President Kennedy, NASA was finally ready to fulfill his prophecy. On July 16, 1969, U.S astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins set off on the first ever lunar landing attempt.
Zero Gravity Training
Astronauts Ted Freeman, Buzz Aldrin, and Charlie Basset goof around during a zero-gravity training exercise. The KC135 simulator was nicknamed by NASA astronauts as the “Vomet Comet.”
Anyone who has been on a zero-gravity amusement park ride could probably understand why. Unfortunately, Aldrin was the only one of the three men pictured here to make it to space as the other two lost their lives in aircraft accidents.
Armstrong participates in a training exercise in April 1969. The exercise was created to simulate using lunar tools on the moon’s surface. It was important to do this to avoid as many surprises as possible. Behind Armstrong, you can see a mock-up of the Lunar Module.
NASA’s Langley’s Lunar Landing Research Facility managed to simulate the moon landing so accurately that when reporters asked Neil what it was like to land on the moon, he responded saying “like Langley.” The equipment at Langley canceled all but one-sixth of Earth’s gravitational force.
NASA scientists went to great lengths to prepare themselves for their missions. In addition to all the technical training, astronauts also had to learn how to survive in the wild. This way, if the re-entry craft landed off target, the crew would have the skills and techniques to survive no matter what.
Pictured here are Frank Borman, Neil Armstrong, John Young, and Deke Slayton during desert training in Nevada. Here they learned to build shelters, find food and water and make clothing out of parachutes.
Apollo 11 astronauts pose with their families on a model of the moon. The astronauts launched into space on July 16th, returned to earth on July 21st and were quarantined until August 10.
Meanwhile, the family members had to carry on living their normal lives as they waited in anticipation for their return home.
Neil Armstrong leads the crew to the van that would take them to the rocket for launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Merrit Island, Florida.
They wave to the crowd, dressed in their spacesuits, ready to face the unknown. All the training will finally pay off in the next days to come.
Ready for Take Off
The world watches as Apollo 11 launches on July 16, 1969. It takes about 3 days for a spacecraft to travel the 240,000 miles (386,400 kilometers) between earth and the Moon.
The speed required for the aircraft to break free of the Earth’s gravitational field was about 7 miles per second.
Behind the Scene Heroes
It’s important to remember that astronauts were not the only heroes of the international race to the moon. Seen here is Melba Roy Mouton, over a decade before the Apollo mission in 1952. Mouton overcame the prejudices of her time and earned her spot heading a group of NASA mathematicians called “computers.”
She also acted as Head Computer Programmer and Program Production Section Chief at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Her computations helped produce orbital element timetables that were crucial to eventually landing a person on the surface of the moon.
The Original Geek Squad
Scientists calculate equations for satellite orbit in 1957. The math used was so intricate that they needed to use ladders to utilize the ntire board.
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that we aren’t aware of. Without these men, figuring out the logistics of a moon landing would not be possible.
One Giant Leap for Mankind
On July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m. EDT Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong climbs down the ladder from the Lunar Module Eagle and upon taking his first steps he announces the now famous phrase: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin joined him just 19 minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin spent two and a half hours exploring, collecting minerals and gathering data outside the spacecraft. Collins stayed in lunar orbit in the command and service module.
Communion on the Moon
After Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module landed on the moon, the three astronauts inside were instructed to wait until further notice to open the door. One of the men, Buzz Aldrin decided to take advantage of this time and did something not many people know about.
Although overwhelmed with excitement, Aldrin got on the comm system and spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. He said, “I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.” He then took out the wine and bread that he brought from home and performed the first communion ever to be held on the moon.
50 Year Anniversary
This summer, July 2019, at the 50 year anniversary of the first moon landing, Neil Armstrongs Apollo 11 spacesuit will be put on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Armstrong’s spacesuit has not been seen by the public eye for 13 years. In 2022 the museum plans to open a permanent gallery called “Destination Moon” that will be entirely dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission.
A Dream Come True
Astronaut and aeronautical engineer, Neil Armstrong tears up inside the lunar module after his monumental first steps on the surface of the moon. After all the hard work and training, he had finally achieved his life dream and successfully changed the course of history.
Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. After leaving NASA in 1971, Armstrong became a professor at the University of Cincinnati. He passed away in 2012 at age 82 due to complications following bypass surgery.
Loved Ones Back on Earth
Jane Aldrin, overcome with emotion, lets out sobs of joy as she watches the television broadcast from her home in Houston Texas. She is so overwhelmed to see her husband, Buzz Aldrin successfully complete his mission to the moon.
The families of the crew members had to wait in anticipation as their husbands risked their lives for the sake of scientific discovery. What a relief it must have been to know that he would soon be home again.
The Steps That Followed
The three men of the Apollo 11 mission changed the course of history and showed the world that nothing is impossible. Since Armstrong and Aldrin, there were 10 more astronauts to walk on the moon.
Pete Conrad and Alan Bean from Apollo 12, Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell from Apollo 14, David Scott and James Irwin from Apollo 15, John Young and Charles Duke from Apollo 16 and Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt from Apollo 17, which was in 1972.
The Eagle Has Landed
NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) officials celebrate their success from mission control base located in Houston. This is where NASA exercised full control of the Apollo mission from the launch at the Kennedy Space Center to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
When the crew landed on the moon, Armstrong reported back to the MSC saying his famous words “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Capsule communicator, Charlie Duke responded saying “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
From Outer Space to Open Waters
When returning to earth, the astronauts had to enter a capsule that was calculated to splash down in the Pacific Ocean where the aircraft carrier USS Hornet would be waiting. When the capsule opened, Navy swimmers gave the crew “Biological Isolation Garments.”
All other officials were not permitted to make contact with the astronauts. Once on the carrier, the crew were lowered into an isolated hangar then entered into a specially made trailer.
21 Day Quarantine
When the Apollo 11 crew returned home from the moon, they were put into quarantine to ensure that they did not bring back any unknown bacteria or virus that might potentially have negative impacts on earth.
Upon arrival, they were greeted by President Richard Nixon who spoke to them through microphones, avoiding any physical contact. The three men spent 21 days aboard a mobile quarantine facility where doctors ran tests and observed their every moment.
Happy to be Home
The crew is overcome with joy as they finally arrive safely back to Earth. They sit together with an ear to ear smile on each of their faces, excited to greet their families and have a well-deserved home-cooked meal.
From then on, the whole world would know their names. The moon landing was watched by an estimated 600 million people across the globe. People from all nations wanted to witness as three brave men flew to the moon.
A Warm Welcome
A Homecoming parade on August 13, 1969, just days after the crew left quarantine. New Yorkers line 42nd street to cheer on the astronauts.
The crew proudly sit up and wave at their fellow Americans as the parade slowly makes their way towards the United Nations building.
School children in Paris wave flags and signs as they wait at the airport for the arrival of the three brave men who traveled to the moon. The Apollo 11 Presidential Goodwill Tour was conducted to emphasize the willingness of the US to share its space knowledge.
The astronauts, along with their wives traveled together to 24 different countries and 27 cities in only 47 days.
Suits of a Different Kind
Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins pose on January 10, 1969, after their announcement that they would be the prime crew for the Apollo 11 landing mission. The three were eager to make their predecessors as well as the astronauts that would come after them proud.
While on their mission, the crew left medallions on the surface of the moon bearing names of three fellow astronauts who perished in Apollo 1 and two cosmonauts who perished in a similar accident.
The Pressure Helmet
Armstrong tries on the helmet that he will later take to space. The helmet is the only part of the suit that is fully pressurized. The rest of the body is pressurized only by the elastic effect of the suit itself.
One issue that the astronauts face with the pressurized helmet is the fact that the head is fixed facing forward. This made it impossible to turn and look sideways. Astronauts call this “alligator head.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Neil Armstrong tests the flexibility of his space suit as he practices stepping on to the ladder of the Lunar Module. This custom made spacesuit cost about $100,000 to manufacture.
The suit was made up of 21 layers of synthetics, neoprene, rubber, and metalized polyester films. It was designed to protect Armstrong from the Moon’s extreme heat and cold, deadly ultraviolet radiation and the potential micrometeorites that could be shooting through space.
Riding in Style
The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) is a battery-powered four-wheeled rover used to get around on the moon. NASA began building the first off-planet automobile shortly after the successful Apollo 11 mission.
The first men to drive on the moon were David Scott and James Irwin in 1971 during their Apollo 15 mission. The rovers were created to give the astronauts more leeway when exploring the moon since the bulky space suits made it hard for the crew to efficiently get around.
The Most Important Meal
The Apollo 11 crew sit for the traditional launch day breakfast at John F. Kennedy space center. They were also joined by Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts and NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations.
For breakfast, Deke and the Apollo 11 crew had steak, eggs, and toast. They would need plenty of energy for the intense day ahead of them. In space, they would eat pureed food squeezed out of tubes, so this meal needed to be especially delicious.
Documenting the First Steps
It was important that the crew had the skills and the equipment to record footage of the first moon landing. Filming the landing required two 16mm Maurer motion picture film cameras, a color television camera, and a black and white TV camera.
In addition, Armstrong and Aldrin had two Hasselblad cameras attached to their suits. The camera itself was heavily modified by NASA so it could continue to function in the harsh lunar atmosphere.
Apollo 11 the Movie
In March 2019, editor, producer, and director Todd Douglas Miller released his feature-length documentary, Apollo 11. This was after its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
The movie shows never before seen footage that “take you straight into the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission.” The film received great reviews from critics.
Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin meet up for a drink in Houston Texas, March 1969, just a few months before their epic journey to the moon.
It was important for the crew to be compatible when embarking on their mission. They needed to be able to trust each other for things to run smoothly in space.
Planting an American flag on the lunar surface remained a meaningful task for every moon mission, including the first in 1969. As of 2012, images taken by NASA spacecraft show that most of those flags are still standing. Assembling the flag was no easy task, given the fact that there’s no natural breeze on the moon.
To give the flag that photo ready blowing in the wind appeal, they had to run a metal rod running along the top. This held the flag up and provided a wind effect. They also reportedly had issues inserting the pole into the lunar soil and only managed to push it seven inches deep.
Arguably the least talked about of the three crew members is retired Air Force general, Michael Collins. While he stayed in orbit when crewmates Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, his role in the mission was just as imperative.
It was Collins job to pilot the command module, Columbia after the Apollo 11 launch. This was, of course, critical for the success of the mission. While the other two landed on the lunar surface, Collins spent 21.5 hours alone in Columbia where he anxiously waited for their return.
Steps Seen Around the World
A Japanese family in Tokyo, 1969, sit to watch a live TV Broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission. President Richard Nixon, superimposed on the broadcast salutes the flag on the moon along with the astronauts.
Around 600 million people around the world tuned in to this live broadcast. ABC, CBS, and NBC collectively spent around $12 million on covering the mission.
A Holy Moment
Even the Pope tuned in! Pope Paul VI watches the lunar landing from the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.
We wonder if he took part in the communion that Buzz Aldrin arranged before opening the doors on the moon. Not only was that the first holy sacrament on the moon but the bread that he ate was the first food to be eaten on the moon.
Continuing a Legacy
In 1903, 66 years before the moon landing, the Wright Brothers succeeded in performing the first flight in human history. Neil wanted to keep this legacy close to him as he made his own mark in the books.
To do this, Armstrong took with him pieces of wood and a piece of fabric from the pioneering Wright plane. He wanted to symbolize the progress being made in aviation. Neil and the Wright Brothers were both Ohio natives.
A Sight to See
People gathered in the hundreds to watch the Apollo 11 rocket launch on July 16, 1969. The Saturn V rocket was launched from pad 39a at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Pictured here are the VIP section seating stalls where people gathered to see the launch. The crowd all came equipped with sunglasses, binoculars and cameras to make sure they don’t miss a beat of this monumental moment in history.
Nixon Waits in Anticipation
Here you can see President Nixon watching the launch, away from the crowds. Nixon made it a personal mission to successfully meet President Kennedy’s mission of landing a man on the moon.
At the time, the mission was not a sure thing and the world had no idea if the crew of Apollo 11 were going to make it home safe an sound. Due to this uncertainty, President Nixon had an extra speech ready in case the mission would fail. Thankfully he did not have to use that speech.