Tuesday, July 16 marked the exact moment 50 years ago when NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins began their landmark mission to land on the Moon. Eight years earlier, in an address to Congress, President John F. Kennedy said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” US space agency NASA poured a staggering $25 billion — the equivalent of $263 billion today — into the program, providing 400,000 jobs for men and women, determined to win at any cost.
The intrepid explorers began this momentous day in 1969 at 6.45am with a steak-and-egg breakfast.
Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed
CBS new anchor Walter Cronkite told Americans on the morning of the Apollo 11 launch: “Three astronauts awakened at 4:15 this morning, an hour and 45 minutes ago.
“They had a good breakfast and were pronounced fit as a fiddle and ready to go.”
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins then donned their spacesuits and were then strapped into the NASA’s Saturn V rocket.
By 9.32am the Saturn V craft ignited and, with 7.6 million lbs. of thrust, launched from pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre.
They did so infant of large crowds of spectators who had gathered to catch a glimpse of the 363ft (111m) tall spacecraft as it blasted into the cloudless sky.
A mere two minutes and 42 seconds after launch, the NASA rocket ejected its first stage, which then plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean.
By 4.41pm the second stage has combusted 260,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 80,000 gallons of liquid oxygen.
Then, after dropping the interstage skirt and the launch escape tower, the NASA spaceship jettisoned its second stage.
Ten seconds later, the third stage engine ignited and, just 11 minutes and 39 seconds after launch, the spacecraft reached an elliptical orbit around Earth.
By this time Saturn V was traveling at 17,432 mph (28,000 kph) and is now 118 miles over Earth.
Along with the three Apollo 11 crew and fuel, the NASA spacecraft carried quantities of oxygen and hydrogen, food supplies, camera equipment, crude Apollo scientific experiments and tools for collecting samples on the Moon rock.
As the astronauts in the command module orbited the Earth, the lunar module, dubbed the Eagle, was tethered beneath the trio.
Only three days after blasting out of Earth’s atmosphere, the Apollo 11 crew had arrived at their destination – a quarter of a million miles from Earth.
As millions watching live around the world held their breath, everything appeared to be A-OK.
But in reality, the lander’s computer was overloaded, and they were off-target.
Armstrong later explained: “Our autopilot was taking us into … a very large crater covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles.
“That was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing.”
Armstrong and Aldrin would land the Eagle lunar module on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility and finally walk the surface of our celestial orb.
Armstrong announced the news with the memorable phrase: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
NASA mission control replied: “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
By now, more than half a billion people were watching as the ghostly images beamed to Earth from a camera mounted on the lunar module.
More than 109 hours after liftoff, Commander Neil Armstrong stepped into history.
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