Today marks 50 years since Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the Moon – the first manned craft to do so. To mark the occasion, I’m writing a series dedicated to Apollo 11, the mission to the Moon, with this part looking at the entire Apollo 11 mission in numbers.
In 1961, then American President John F Kennedy addressed Congress, declaring his intention for the country to send a manned mission to the Moon before the end of the decade. Over the next eight years, NASA launched several missions to prepare for such a mission, including orbiting the Moon and testing the Lunar Module that would bring two men down to the lunar surface.
By coincidence all three of the men on the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, were born in the same year – 1930. The assignment for the historic mission was announced almost two years before the actual landing, on November 20 1967.
The Saturn V rocket, the Command Module and the Lunar Module, combined had a launch mass of over 45 thousand kilograms. The mission’s landing mass was just over a tenth of this total.
At present, the Saturn V rocket still remains heaviest, tallest and most powerful rocket ever brought into operation. The rocket stood 110.6 meters tall, larger than the Statue of Liberty (93 metres).
Over 25 million people watched the launch of Apollo 11 on television in the United States alone, including then President Richard Nixon – who watched the launch from the White House. The launch was broadcast live in 33 different countries, and over a million people watched from beaches and highways near the launch site as Apollo 11 set off for the Moon.
It took just 12 minutes for the spacecraft to achieve Earth orbit, and by three hours in to the mission, the craft was on course for the Moon. Once into Moon orbit, the craft orbited the Moon 13 times before the Lunar Module undocked from the Command Module, and began its descent to the surface.
Due to an issue with the landing spot the guidance system was sending the Lunar Module to, Neil Armstrong took control to find a suitable landing spot. This took longer than originally anticipated and the Lunar Module landed with just 98 kilograms worth of fuel. It was thought that Armstrong and Aldrin had only 20 seconds of fuel left before an abortion without touchdown would have become unsafe – but post-mission this was found to be closer to 50.
After touching down on the surface of the Moon, both Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to head out on to the lunar surface themselves. Over 600 million people from around the world (around 16 percent of the entire world population at the time) watched on television at 2:56am UTC on July 21st 1969 as Neil Armstrong left the craft and became the first man to step foot on the Moon.
As well as planting the American flag on the surface and performing scientific tests, the two men were instructed to collect rocks from the Moon to bring back to Earth for analysis. Armstrong and Aldrin brought back rocks weighing 21.7 kilograms. Study of the samples found that they were 3.7 billion years old.
21 hours 36 minutes
Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin spent just short of a full Earth day on the surface of the Moon before taking off to once again dock with the Command Module and return to Earth.
Whilst the men were on the surface, the unmanned Soviet probe Luna 15 (which had entered lunar orbit the day after Apollo 11 took off) crashed into the lunar surface, destroying the craft. Fortunately, the two astronauts were not in any danger, as the crash site was around 500 miles away.
On take-off from the surface, the two men noticed, unfortunately, that the flag they planted was knocked over by the power of their thrusters.
Of course, a day on Earth is not the same length as a day on the Moon – with a day there in fact lasting a staggering 29.5 Earth days.
195 hours 18 minutes 35 seconds
The total length of the Apollo 11 mission, from take-off to the return of the three astronauts to Earth was just over 195 hours – at over eight days long.
The craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, with the three men being taken aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
Upon return, the three astronauts were put into quarantine for three weeks as a precaution, fearing the possibility of harmful pathogens being brought back to Earth with the men. On August 10th, all three were given a clean bill of health and were released. Three days later, the astronauts rode in ticker-tape parades in both New York City and Chicago to celebrate the successful mission – with six million attendees.