2.3.4 Apollo 11 , Landing of the Eagle

Clearly the climax of the Apollo program was the flight of Apollo 11. A unique confluence of political necessity, personal commitment and activism, scientific and technological ability, economic prosperity, and public mood made possible the 1961 decision to carry out an aggressive lunar landing program. That landing came during the flight of Apollo 11, which lifted off on July 16, 1969 and, after confirmation that the hardware was working well, began the three day trip to the Moon. Then, at 4:18 p.m. EST on the 20th of July, 1969, the Lunar Moduleówith astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin aboardólanded on the surface of the Moon while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo Command Module. After checkout, Armstrong set foot on the surface, telling millions who saw and heard him on Earth that it was, "One small step for manóone giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon followed him out, and the two plodded around the landing site in the 1/6 lunar gravity, planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had been routinely done during European explorations of America, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they launched back to the Apollo capsule orbiting overhead and began the return trip to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific on the 24th of July.

The flight of Apollo 11 met with an ecstatic reaction around the globe, as everyone shared in the success of the mission. Ticker tape parades, speaking engagements, public relations events, and a world tour by the astronauts served to create good will both in the U.S. and abroad. Five more landing missions followed at approximately six month intervals through December 1972, each of them increasing the time spent on the Moon. Three of the later Apollo missions used a lunar rover vehicle to travel in the vicinity of the landing site, but none of them equaled the excitement of Apollo 11. The scientific experiments placed on the Moon and the lunar soil samples returned through Project Apollo have provided grist for scientists' investigations of the Solar System ever since. The scientific return was significant, but the Apollo program did not answer conclusively the age-old questions of lunar origins and evolution.

Project Apollo in general, and the flight of Apollo 11 in particular, should be viewed as a watershed in the nation's history. It was an endeavor that demonstrated both the technological and economic virtuousity of the United States and established national preeminence over rival nationsóthe primary goal of the program when first envisioned by the Kennedy administration in 1961. It had been an enormous undertaking, costing $25.4 billion (about $95 billion in 1990 dollars) with only the building of the Panama Canal rivaling the Apollo program's size as the largest non-military technological endeavor ever undertaken by the United States and only the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb in World War II being comparable in a wartime setting.

There are several important legacies (or conclusions) about Project Apollo that need to be remembered. First, and probably most important, the Apollo program was successful in accomplishing the political goals for which it had been created.President Kennedy had been dealing with a Cold War crisis in 1961 brought on by several separate factorsóthe Soviet orbiting of Yuri Gagarin and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion only two of them. At the time of the Apollo 11 landing Mission Control in Houston flashed the words of President Kennedy announcing the Apollo commitment on its big screen. Those phrases were followed with these: "TASK ACCOMPLISHED, July 1969." No greater understatement could probably have been made. Any assessment of Apollo that does not recognize the accomplishment of landing an American on the Moon and safely returning before the end of the 1960s is incomplete and innaccurate, for that was the primary goal of the undertaking.

Second, Project Apollo was a triumph of management in meeting enormously difficult systems engineering and technological integration requirements. James E. Webb, the NASA Administrator at the height of the program between 1961 and 1968, always contended that Apollo was much more a management exercise than anything else, and that the technological challenge, while sophisticated and impressive, was largely within grasp at the time of the 1961 decision. More difficult was ensuring that those technological skills were properly managed and used. Webb's contention was confirmed in spades by the success of Apollo. NASA leaders had to acquire and organize unprecedented resources to accomplish the task at hand. From both a political and technological perspective, management was critical. For seven years after President Kennedy's Apollo decision, through October 1968, James Webb used politics, coaxed, cajoled, and maneuvered for NASA in Washington. In the process, he acquired for the agency sufficient resources to meet its Apollo requirements.

More to the point, NASA personnel employed a "program management" concept that centralized authority over design, engineering, procurement, testing, construction, manufacturing, spare parts, logistics, training, and operations. The systems management of the program was recognized as critical to Apollo's success in November 1968, when Science magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed: "In terms of numbers of dollars or of men, NASA has not been our largest national undertaking, but in terms of complexity, rate of growth, and technological sophistication it has been unique. . . . It may turn out that [the space program's] most valuable spin-off of all will be human rather than technological: better knowledge of how to plan, coordinate, and monitor the multitudinous and varied activities of the organizations required to accomplish great social undertakings. Understanding the management of complex structures for the successful completion of a multifarious task was a critical outgrowth of the Apollo effort."

Third, Project Apollo forced the people of the world to view the planet Earth in a new way. Apollo 8 was critical to this fundamental change, for on its outward voyage, the crew focused a portable television camera on and for the first time humanity saw its home from afar, a tiny, lovely, and fragile "blue marble" hanging in the blackness of space. When the Apollo 8 spacecraft arrived at the Moon on Christmas Eve of 1968 the image of Earth was even more strongly reinforced when the crew sent images of the planet back while reading the first part of the Bible--"And God created the heavens and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void"--before sending holiday greetings to humanity. Writer Archibald MacLeish summed up the feelings of many people when he wrote at the time of Apollo, that "To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal coldóbrothers who know now that they are truly brothers."

The modern environmental movement was galvanized in part by this new perception of the planet and the need to protect it and the life that it supports. Finally, the Apollo program, while an enormous achievement, left a divided legacy for NASA and the aerospace community. The perceived "golden age" of Apollo created for the agency an expectation that the direction of any major space goal from the President would always bring NASA a broad consensus of support and provide it with the resources and license to dispense them as it saw fit. Something most NASA officials did not understand at the time of the Moon landing in 1969, however, was that Apollo had not been conducted under normal political circumstances and that the exceptional circumstances surrounding Apollo would not be repeated. The Apollo decision was, therefore, an anomaly in the national decision-making process. The dilemma of the "golden age" of Apollo has been difficult to overcome, but moving beyond the Apollo program to embrace future opportunities has been an important goal of the agency's leadership in the recent past. Exploration of the Solar System and the universe remains as enticing a goal and as important an objective for humanity as it ever has been. Project Apollo was an important early step in that ongoing process of exploration.

Photograph of Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage taken from CSM

for more about Apollo program visit http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/history/apollo/apollo.htm

After Apollo 11, NASA launched six other Apollo missions. Apollo 12 landed on the moon on November 19, 1970. Apollo 13 was launched on 4-11-70 (note 4+1+1+7+0=13 !!). The mission was marred by an explosion in the CSM, but returned to Earth safely . Apollos 14,15,16 and 17 primarily experimented and collected objects from the lunar surface. Apollo 17 landed on the "Mare Serenitatis" on December 1972. Two of the astronauts stayed on the lunar surface for four days. This was the last Apollo mission, which ended on December 19, 1972. After that, NASA started the Skylab program in May 1973.

Skylabs were modified Apollos that weighed 100 tons and were used for variety of experiments with the Sun, the Earth's resources and phsyiological studies of human's long stays in the space. In July of 1975, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted the joint Apollo- Soyus mission. The two spacecrafts linked 140 miles above the Earth and opened the door to international cooperation for space exploration.

The next time the United States sent an astronaut to space was on April 12, 1981. Astronauts Young and Rober L. Crippen flew the Space Shuttle Columbia on the first misson of the Space Transportation System (STS-1). Columbia was the first airplane-like craft to land from orbit when it touched down on April 14, after a flight of two days, six hours and 21 minutes. STS will be discussed in much more detail in Chapter 5.


Click on show content button and select the topics from the content