Apollo 11: Timeline of Launch Day

This week marks fifty years since the first manned mission to the Moon, with Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the lunar surface on July 21st 1969. To mark the occasion, I’m writing a seven-part series dedicated to Apollo 11, the mission to the Moon, with this part covering launch day itself.

Today marks fifty years since the launch of Apollo 11 from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, bound for the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon. Here is a timeline of the events of that day.

At around 4am on launch day, senior manager of NASA’s astronaut office Deke Slayton woke Apollo 11’s three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The men showered, had a shave and enjoyed a traditional pre-flight breakfast with the back-up crew and Slayton – eating steak and eggs.

Soon after, the men entered their space suits and at 6:30am began the process of boarding the Saturn V rocket. At around 7am, the hatch was sealed and the cabin pressurised ready for launch.

Waiting to see the vessel take off were hundreds of dignatories, including Vice President Agnew, former President Johnson, 3,500 journalists from 56 countries and a variety of congressmen, governors and cabinet members. As well as those waiting in the compound were around one million spectators outside the space centre, watching from nearby highways and beaches.

Image: NASA

The Saturn V rocket launched at 9:32am (local time) and 13 seconds after take off began its roll to enter space.

Shutdown of the engines of the first stage, separation of the first stage and ignition of the second followed just two minutes and 42 seconds into the mission, with the second stage being jettisoned and third stage engine ignited after just over nine minutes in.

12 minutes into the flight, Apollo 11 entered into orbit around Earth, travelling at a height of roughly 185 kilometres. The craft orbited Earth one and a half times before activating the third stage engine once more to push the spacecraft on course for the Moon.

Half an hour after this, the craft was re-orientated, with the spent third stage being separated from the Command Module named ‘Columbia’. The craft turned to dock with the Lunar Module dubbed ‘Eagle’ and the combined craft set off for the Moon.

By 1pm in the afternoon in Florida, less than four hours into the mission, Apollo 11 was on course to make history.

With Apollo 11 on its way to land on the lunar surface, I will take a look at the three men on board in a blog tomorrow.

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