Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins -- 50 Years Ago Today -- The Ultimate Quest Begins

Posted by Guy Pirro   07/16/2019 07:45PM

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins -- 50 Years Ago Today -- The Ultimate Quest Begins

It was 50 years ago today that Neil Armstrong took the first small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. The years that followed saw an unprecedented age of scientific, technological, and human research and advancement. We stand now on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap deeper into the Solar System. The Apollo missions blazed a path for human exploration to the moon and today we are extending that path to Mars, and beyond. In our lifetimes, NASA and the world will take the next giant leap to explore the Red Planet. It gives us pause to consider that the first woman or man to set foot on Mars is already walking the Earth today. (Image Credit: NASA)



Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins -- 50 Years Ago Today -- The Ultimate Quest Begins


It’s July 16, 1969 -- Just a little over eight years have passed since the flights of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and Astronaut Alan Shepard, followed the following year by President Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

It’s only two and a half years since the horrific Apollo 1 fire during pre-launch testing at Cape Kennedy that took the lives of Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.

And it’s only seven months since NASA's made a bold decision to send the Apollo 8 Astronauts -- Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders -- all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

Now, on the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.





At 9:32 AM EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit.

After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a "GO" for what mission controllers call "Translunar Injection" --In other words, it's time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia.

Collins later writes that Eagle is "the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky," but it will prove its worth.





When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle's computer is sounding alarms.

It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, "unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems."

When the lunar module lands at 4:18 PM EDT, 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."





Armstrong will later confirm that landing was his biggest concern, saying "the unknowns were rampant," and "there were just a thousand things to worry about."

At 10:56 PM EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Aldrin joins him shortly, and offers a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: "magnificent desolation." They explore the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.





They leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs. It reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 AD We came in peace for all mankind."

Armstrong and Aldrin blast off and dock with Collins in Columbia. Collins later says that "for the first time," he "really felt that we were going to carry this thing off."

The crew splashed down off Hawaii on July 24. President Kennedy's challenge had been met -- Men from Earth walked on the moon and returned safely home.





In an interview years later, Armstrong praises the "hundreds of thousands" of people behind the project. "Every guy that's setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman -- If anything goes wrong here, it's not going to be my fault.”

In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong calls the flight "a beginning of a new age," while Collins talks about future journeys to Mars.





Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps. Astronaut Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission, leaves the lunar surface with these words: "We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind."



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