NASA’s Moon landing in 1969 was hailed one of mankind’s greatest achievements in a time of widespread conflict. In 1969, America was embroiled in the Soviet Cold War and the Space Race but was also stuck in the quagmire of the Vietnam War. Not only did the Moon landing seal the US’ dominance in space but the Apollo 11 mission expanded the horizons of space exploration for humanity as a whole. As the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing fast approaches, here is a timeline of how the historic journey unfolded.
July 16, 1969, – Apollo lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida
On the morning of July 16, 1969, Eastern time, three astronauts found themselves strapped to the most powerful rocket ever built – the Saturn V.
The astronauts, of course, were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
The Saturn V took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at precisely 2.32pm BST (8.32am CDT or 9.32am EDT).
The monstrous rocket blasted off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, which remains active till today.
In the official Apollo 11 flight journal, NASA noted: “Public Affairs Officer Jack King, whose coolness is legendary, finally succumbs to the tension and is clearly heard to say ‘all engine running’ instead of ‘all engines running’.”
July 20, 1969 – The Eagle lands on the Moon
After a three day journey to the Moon and safely entering a lunar orbit, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepare to descend.
While the astronauts flew the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) to the Moon, Collins stayed behind the helm of the Columbia Command Module (CM).
The journey towards the lunar surface was fraught with tension – the LM was dropping too fast, the onboard computer was overloaded and blaring alarms signals, and the spacecraft was headed towards a field of boulders.
Thankfully Commander Armstrong’s nerves of steel took over and allowed the astronaut to manually guide the LM to a clear landing spot in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility.
NASA said: “When the lunar module lands at 4.18pm EDT (9.18pm BST), only 30 seconds of fuel remain.
“Armstrong radios: ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.’”
“Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew: ‘You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.’”
Then after, six hours inside of the LM, Commander Armstrong left the LM to make “one giant leap for mankind”.
July 24, 1969 – Apollo 11 returns safely to Earth
Once the Apollo 11 crew completed their mission on the Moon and safely rendezvoused with Collins and the Columbia, the astronauts charted a course back home.
Their return trajectory led them straight into the Pacific Ocean where they splash landed 5.49pm BST (12.49pm EDT or 11.49am CDT).
The astronauts were lifted up to safety aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet by a helicopter.
Their spacecraft landed approximately 812 nautical miles from Hawaii.
Upon return, the three astronauts had to spend 21 days in quarantine in case of any bugs living on the Moon.