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Footprints on the moon

In the months following the historic Apollo 11 mission, on July 21, 1969, The Associated Press gathered its finest writers to chronicle nearly a decade of space exploration.

In this account of the Apollo 11 mission, we have drawn freely upon the final chapters of Footprints on the Moon.

For the first time ever, explore all of AP’s Apollo 11 coverage in the eBook available now.

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President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, in background, receive guests in the White House in Washington, D.C.
AP Photo / Henry Burroughs
The decision

On April 20, 1961, eights days after the Soviets propelled the first human being into space, just one day after the Bay of Pigs ended in America’s humiliation, President John F. Kennedy wrote a memorandum to the man who would one day succeed him, then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, outlining a series of questions to help shed light on the state of U.S. space exploration.

Memorandum for the Vice President
In accordance with out conversation I would like for you as Chairman of the Space Council to be in charge of making an over-all survey of where we stand in space.
  1. Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?
  2. How much additional would it cost?
  3. Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs? If not, why not? If not, will you make recommendations to me as to how work can bee speeded up.
  4. In building large boosters, should we put our emphasis on nuclear, chemical or liquid fuel, or a combination of these three?
  5. Are we making maximum effort? Are we achieving necessary results?
I have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.
John F. Kennedy
Memorandum for the Vice President
In accordance with out conversation I would like for you as Chairman of the Space Council to be in charge of making an over-all survey of where we stand in space.
  1. Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?
  2. How much additional would it cost?
  3. Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs? If not, why not? If not, will you make recommendations to me as to how work can bee speeded up.
  4. In building large boosters, should we put our emphasis on nuclear, chemical or liquid fuel, or a combination of these three?
  5. Are we making maximum effort? Are we achieving necessary results?
I have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.
John F. Kennedy

With that memo, Kennedy cranked up the ponderous mill of federal decision-making that would ultimately send the United States on its way to the moon, spend more than $25 billion of public money, harness the adventure and test the faith of some, arouse the doubt and anger of others.

As a matter of national conscience it had begun nearly three years and four months before John Kennedy took office. It was then that a bewildered but lethargic America watched as its own puny space rockets fizzled on the launch pads while the Soviet Union, supposedly a rural autocracy, seemed to fill the air with satellites.

October 4, 1957. Sputnik. A miracle and a threat all in one. Sputnik brought cries of shock from Congress, from Republicans and Democrats alike, shouts for action, for reappraisal, damning the American preoccupation with material things, with the height of a car’s tail fins, with the depth of pile on a new broadloom rug.

April 28, 1961, just another eight days after President Kennedy’s memo, the National Aeronautics and Space Council submitted a tentative report to the president. It said in essence: “The moon is a good target for us.”

Memorandum for the Vice President
In accordance with out conversation I would like for you as Chairman of the Space Council to be in charge of making an over-all survey of where we stand in space.
  1. Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?
  2. How much additional would it cost?
  3. Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs? If not, why not? If not, will you make recommendations to me as to how work can bee speeded up.
  4. In building large boosters, should we put our emphasis on nuclear, chemical or liquid fuel, or a combination of these three?
  5. Are we making maximum effort? Are we achieving necessary results?
I have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.
John F. Kennedy
Destination: moon
Our moon
Diameter
2,160 mi
Circumference
6,786 mi
Surface gravity
1.6 m/s2

Average distance from earth
238,855 mi
Compared to earth
7,918 mi
24,901 mi
9.8 m/s2

Light travels from earth in
1.26s
Earth
Moon
distance from the earth to the moon, drawn to scale
The state of space

In 1961, it was clear that the Soviets had the upper hand in space. Four years earlier, Sputnik 1 had been hurled into orbit. Soon after, the United States began to make space exploration a priority of its own. President Kennedy, vowing to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, set plans in motion to surpass the Russians, who in 1961 became the first to successfully send a man into orbit around the Earth. But that was all about to change.

Immediately following Sputnik’s success, plans began for Project Vanguard with the goal of putting U.S. satellites into orbit — to catch up. Plans for Project Mercury, with the goal of putting U.S. astronauts into space, began the same year and successfully put U.S. astronaut John Glenn into orbit, February 20, 1962. This would set the stage for the final phase of fulfilling Kennedy’s dream, though he would not live to see it. Less than two years later, on November 22, 1963, the world would be rocked by Kennedy’s assassination. But a nation, so stricken with grief, would not be deterred.

Plans were already underway for Project Apollo. It began with the devastating Apollo 1 training mission that claimed the lives of all three crew members, Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee, on January 27, 1967, just one month before the planned launch. Following safety improvements, the Apollo missions would resume with the speed and determination that would put a man on the moon just two years later. The name Apollo 1 was reserved for the flight that was never made by the lost astronauts, not forgotten.

Captions
  1. Astronaut Ed White moves away from his Gemini 4 capsule as his golden tether unreels from a black bag where it was kept until he emerged from the spacecraft, June 8, 1965.
    AP Photo / NASA
  2. Neil Armstrong, aboard Gemini 8, maneuvers his capsule toward the Agena Rocket, March 16, 1966.
    AP Photo / nasa
  3. Various Gemini missions blast off from Cape Canaveral. It was during these missions that the U.S. successfully maneuvered the transfer of astronauts from one craft to another, mid-orbit, laying the foundation for Apollo's two-module system.
    AP Photos
An American Moon

The moon, strange silver ball in the sky, full of romance and superstition, keeping the same face toward the earth as it circled, as if taking the measure of man, had become the focus of a nation’s pride.

Finally, in July of 1969, after eight years of transient triumph and recurrent despair, an American would set foot on the moon, the first human to test its sun-baked soil. In this lunar desert with its blinding white surface, its stark black shadows, American astronaut Neil Armstrong would plant a flag and thrill the world. It would be man’s first step into the starry night of space, to a kingdom he had always relegated to the gods. Now it was, as well, the realm of man.

By that time, the moon was no longer a total mystery. As Armstrong said, Apollo 11 would not be a flight into the unknown. The moon had been measured, compared and poked at. For all the small physical facts, there was a larger question that persisted. How did it all begin? Despite theories, this question remained unanswered as Apollo 11 readied for flight. It was part of the reason for going.

Thus in July, 1969, against the new images of her bleak craters and mountain ranges the world considered three men — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins — to reach out and touch the sky.

Neil Armstrong
Mission commander
Born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil Armstrong was the son of a traveling state auditor. He got his pilot’s license at 16, before he got his driver’s license. He received his Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from Purdue, his Navy wings from Pensacola. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern California. Blond, blue-eyed, 5-feet-11, 165 pounds, married, father of two boys. He became an astronaut in 1962. Sparing in words, direct, with an engineer’s analytical mind, dry humor, boyish smile, Armstrong would lead Apollo 11 and be the first man to set foot on the moon.
Michael Collins
Command module pilot
Michael Collins was born in Rome, Italy, October 31, 1930. His father was an Army major general and his uncle, Gen. J. Lawton “Lightening Joe” Collins, was a World War II hero and eventually Army chief of staff. Michael Collins was a West Point graduate and an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Brown-haired, brown-eyed, 5-feet-11, 165 pounds, a test pilot, father of three, he flew Gemini 10. Imaginative and talkative, Collins was the odd man on Apollo 11. Relaxed, active sense of humor, easy to like. But on the other hand, a good test pilot, competitive, aggressive, Collins would fly the command module orbiting the moon while his two crewmates would descend to the lunar surface.
Buzz Aldrin
Lunar module pilot
Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. was born January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. The proud parents nicknamed him “Buzz.” He was an Air Force colonel, and the son of an Air Force colonel. Aldrin finished third in his class at West Point, and won his Doctor of Science degree from MIT. His thesis on orbital rendezvous laid out the technique for the Gemini program. He became an astronaut in 1963 and helped solve the fatigue problem of working in space. Father of three, thinning blond hair, blue eyes, 5-feet-10, 165 pounds. Taciturn, deep of voice, short of patience, another man of few words, Aldrin would be Apollo 11’s lunar module pilot and the second man to set foot on the moon.
Neil Armstrong
Mission commander
Born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil Armstrong was the son of a traveling state auditor. He got his pilot’s license at 16, before he got his driver’s license. He received his Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from Purdue, his Navy wings from Pensacola. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern California. Blond, blue-eyed, 5-feet-11, 165 pounds, married, father of two boys. He became an astronaut in 1962. Sparing in words, direct, with an engineer’s analytical mind, dry humor, boyish smile, Armstrong would lead Apollo 11 and be the first man to set foot on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin
Lunar module pilot
Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. was born January 20, 1930, in Montclair, NJ. The proud parents nicknamed him “Buzz.” He was an Air Force colonel, and the son of an Air Force colonel. Aldrin finished third in his class at West Point, and won his Doctor of Science degree from MIT. His thesis on orbital rendezvous laid out the technique for the Gemini program. He became an astronaut in 1963 and helped solve the fatigue problem of working in space. Father of three, thinning blond hair, blue eyes, 5-feet-10, 165 pounds. Taciturn, deep of voice, short of patience, another man of few words, Aldrin would be Apollo 11’s lunar module pilot and the second man to set foot on the moon.
Michael Collins
Command module pilot
Michael Collins was born in Rome, Italy, October 31, 1930. His father was an Army major general and his uncle, Gen. J. Lawton “Lightening Joe” Collins, was a World War II hero and eventually Army chief of staff. Michael Collins was a West Point graduate and an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Brown-haired, brown-eyed, 5-feet-11, 165 pounds, a test pilot, father of three, he flew Gemini 10. Imaginative and talkative, Collins was the odd man on Apollo 11. Relaxed, active sense of humor, easy to like. But on the other hand, a good test pilot, competitive, aggressive, Collins would fly the command module orbiting the moon while his two crewmates would descend to the lunar surface.
July 16
The launch
Neil Armstrong waving in front, heads for the van that will take the crew to the rocket for launch to the moon at Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 16, 1969.
AP Photo
8:32 a.m.
liftoff
Stage–IC rockets fire, and the spaceship leaves the launchpad, followed by the detachment and engagement of two other rocket stages, S-II and S-IVB.
8:33 a.m.
Mach 1 achieved
Captions
  1. Apollo 11 thrusts towards a rendezvous with the moon.
    AP Photo
  2. Apollo 11 blasts off to the moon from Cape Kennedy, Florida.
    AP Photo / NASA
  3. Thousands of newsmen and photographers line the banks of a lagoon at the Cape Kennedy Press Site on July 16, 1969, as Apollo 11 thunders from its launch pad three and a half miles away.
    AP Photo
  4. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin lift off the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Florida.
    AP Photo / NASA
8:45 a.m.
orbital navigation begins
Apollo 11 begins its orbit around the earth, preparing for the long journey to the moon.
8:34 a.m.
S-IC rocket detaches
8:35 a.m.
S-II rocket engages
8:41 a.m.
S-II rocket detaches; S-IV rocket engages
Waves of clouds along the east flanks of the Andes Mountains cast off an orange glow from the low angle of the sun in the West. This shot, made on the Gemini 7 mission, December, 1965, shows the earth as seen from space.
AP Photo / NASA
11:22 a.m.
Translunar injection
Apollo 11 nudges itself out of earth orbit and sets a course for the moon. The command and lunar modules, nicknamed Columbia and Eagle, respectively, reconfigure for the long flight to the moon.
11:47 a.m.
Columbia separates and turns around
11:56 a.m.
Columbia docks with EAGLE and S-IV rocket
12:49 p.m.
Columbia and Eagle detach from S-IV rocket
July 11
President Nixon cancels plans to dine with the astronauts on the advice of NASA doctors, fearing the spread of germs to the crew, compromising the mission.
July 12
The Russians launch an unmanned spacecraft, Luna 15, to the moon, its purpose unknown.
July 16
Sheriff’s deputies in Brevard County, Florida, estimate there are close to 1,000,000 spectators crowded into the Cape Canaveral area, some 700,000 more than the normal population of 230,000.
“It’s a beautiful morning for a trip to the moon.”
Jack King, NASA public affairs officer and former AP newsman
An estimated 10,000 people gather to watch Apollo 11 on giant television screens in New York's Central Park, taking part in the enthusiasm around the globe.
AP Photo
“In the past ages, exploration was a lonely enterprise. But today, the miracles of space travel are matched by the miracles of space communications; even across the lunar distance, television brings the moment of discovery into our homes, and makes all of us participants.”
President Richard Nixon
Dacca, pakistan
A boy born an hour after launch is named Apollo.
Vincennes, Indiana
Two parents name their newborn son Neil.
Wapakoneta, Ohio
Residents rename a street Neil Armstrong Boulevard.
Munich, Germany
The Bavarian state mint begins striking gold and silver coins engraved with the names of the three astronauts and: “The First Man on the Moon, 1969. Space Belongs to Everyone. God Created It.”
El Lago, Texas
After returning from the launch at Cape Canaveral, Neil Armstrong’s wife, Janet, faced the media wearily and said, “I don't feel historic.”
In Moscow, it is rumored that Luna 15 will soft-land, scoop up some lunar soil, and head back to earth with the first samples of the moon.
July 16
11:16 a.m.
midcourse correction
Astronauts fire Columbia’s rockets to tighten their trajectory toward the moon.
July 19
12:21 p.m.
LUNAR ORBIT INSERTION
Apollo 11 enters orbit around the moon.
July 20
7:52 a.m.
Armstrong and aldrin enter eagle for final prep
Michael Collins remains aboard Columbia to monitor and maintain orbit.
12:44 p.m.
eagle undocks from columbia in preparation for descent
July 18
10:12 p.m.
Apollo 11 reaches the equigravisphere,point where the gravities of earth and the moon have equal pull on the spacecraft.
Poland
Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the only woman to fly in space, wishes Apollo 11 astronauts well.
The White House, Washington, D.C.
President Nixon announces that the Apollo astronauts are carrying mementoes of the five men, Russian and American, who died in the space race. For the Americans, a shoulder patch of the Apollo 1 crew. For the Russians, Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, the Americans carried medals given by their widows to astronaut Frank Borman during his trip to Russia. They would leave all five mementoes on the moon.
A view of Columbia with astronaut Michael Collins aboard as seen from Eagle just before Armstrong and Aldrin, aboard Eagle, begin the descent to the lunar surface.
AP Photo / NASA
3:17 p.m.
Apollo 11 lands on the surface of the moon
Following a decision to forgo the first rest period, Armstrong and Aldrin begin preparations for the moon walk.
2:56 a.m.
‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
Neil Armstrong becomes the first human being to set foot on the surface of the moon.
“Houston ... Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
July 21
2:39 a.m.
Armstrong begins down the ladder to the lunar surface, followed closely by Aldrin
The White House, Washington, D.C.
President Nixon watches televised reports with astronaut Frank Borman. The last 22 seconds, he said, was more like half an hour. He sent the astronauts his congratulations. “It was,” he said, “one of the greatest moments of our time.”
Trafalgar Square, London
Crowds of men and women cheer and scream with reports of Apollo 11’s successful landing.
Wapakoneta, Ohio
Neil Armstrong’s mother stands outside her flag-draped home and says, “I hope it will be for the good of all mankind.”
Yankee Stadium, New York City
With the scoreboard flashing, “They're on the moon,” the Yankees-Senators game stops, the stadium fills with cheers, there is a moment of silence and the 35,000 fans sing “America the Beautiful.”
“Be advised there are lots of smiling faces here, and all around the world,”
said Mission Control.
“There are two up here also,”
replied Armstrong.
“Don't forget the one up here,”
added Collins from his lonely post.
Captions
  1. Immediately following Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin descends the steps of the lunar module ladder as he prepares to walk on the moon.
    AP Photo / NASA / Neil Armstrong
  2. Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon.
    AP Photo / NASA / Neil Armstrong
  3. Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 lunar module.
    AP Photo / NASA / Neil Armstrong
  4. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface.
    AP Photo / NASA
  5. Aldrin carries scientific experiments to a deployment site south of the lunar module.
    AP Photo / NASA / Neil Armstrong
  6. A section of Buzz Aldrin's panorama of the Apollo 11 lunar landing site, showing Neil Armstrong with the lunar module.
    AP Photo / NASA / Buzz Aldrin
  7. A footprint left by one of the astronauts shows in the soft, powder surface of the moon.
    AP Photo / NASA
3:41 a.m.
us flag planted
Armstrong and Aldrin place an American flag in the lunar soil along with a plaque.
“Here man first set foot on the moon, July, 1969. We came in peace for all mankind.”
They also left there a memento for each of the five men, Russian and American, who died in the pursuit of space exploration.
5:11 a.m.
the spacewalk ends
With the glare of the lunar sunrise increasing and the threat of Houston’s 10-minute warning, Armstrong and Aldrin hurriedly packed up their instruments and returned to the Eagle.
12:54 p.m.
Eagle lifts off to return to columbia in orbit
11:50 am, July 21
Luna 15 lands or crashes on the moon in the Sea of Crisis — 500 miles away from the Apollo 11 landing site — its purpose still not entirely known.
Captions
  1. After an eight day mission to the moon, the Apollo 11 command module lands in the Pacific Ocean, about to be safely recovered by U.S. Navy helicopters on July 24, 1969.
    AP Photo
  2. U.S. Navy personnel, protected by Biological Isolation Garments, recover the Apollo 11 crew from the re-entry vehicle.
    AP Photo
  3. Apollo 11 crew boarding a recovery helicopter.
    AP Photo
  4. Neil Armstrong, center, is shown with his fellow spacemen, Edwin Buzz Aldrin, center, and Michael Collins in quarantine, July 27, 1969, Houston, Texas. The three would remain in quarantine to protect against any possible germs from the moon until August 10, 1969.
    AP Photo
  5. The Apollo 11 astronauts wave to cheering New Yorkers during a motorcade in midtown Manhattan, August 13, 1969. From left are: Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong. Among those in the car are United Nations Secretary General U Thant, seated to the right of Collins, and New York Mayor John Lindsey, seated below Aldrin and Collins.
    AP Photo
Legacy

The trip back to earth was quiet and restful, if not quick. With hardly a problem, Columbia flashed through earth’s sky and splashed down in the warm Polynesian waters of the Pacific at 12:50 p.m. Thursday, July 24, eight days, three hours and 18 minutes after it took wing at Cape Kennedy, Florida. It landed just nine miles from the aircraft carrier Hornet and the eyes of President Nixon, on hand to greet the astronauts even if he could not shake their hands. They immediately went into the elaborate quarantine system, in which they would remain until August 11, to protect the earth from any possible contamination from germs on the moon.

Stretching endlessly beyond the moon is the ordered disorder of space. Nearest are the planets that keep earth company in shadowy orbits around the sun; and beyond them, the stars and the other solar systems of the Milky Way. And beyond, countless other galaxies yielding billions and billions of other suns. How far can man reach? How far does he dare dream?

Beyond Apollo 11 at least, 10 more men, Americans, would tread the lunar surface, the only ten in history. The future of space exploration, though dotted with sacrifice, would open doors to new understanding of life on earth and the mysteries beyond. Man would put the most powerful telescope into space, beyond the distortion of earth’s atmosphere. He would discover new states and forms of matter. He would even safely shuttle men and women to and from a space station hurtling at nearly five miles per second around the earth. And the future today puts man on Mars, and perhaps even further.

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Footprints on the moon
Footprints on the moon
  • The decision
  • Destination: Moon
  • The state of space
  • An American moon
  • Legacy
GET THE eBOOK
Footprints on the Moon