While there have been 13 manned missions to the moon, only six landed with 12 astronauts having stepped on the moon’s surface; and six of the missions remained in orbit.
Apollo 13 was a manned mission that was ended mid-flight.
It took an incredible amount of preparation to design, build, and test the space missions that were being sent to the moon.
This was in the late 1960s, and computer technology was in its very early stages.
To get an idea of the limitations of the computers, the entire Apollo mission computer system was less than that of a digital watch that we have today.
During the time of development for the manned space missions, astronauts that qualified had to be pilots within the American service and have a minimum hours of flight time.
During that era, the only people that were pilots were men, so women were not considered for any astronaut program.
They also had to be in excellent physical health and NASA set up strenuous testing programs for endurance.
NASA had many space programs that led up to the moon walks, but it was in 1969, when President John F.
Kennedy put out his challenge to put a man on the moon and bring him back again before the end of the decade that things really ramped up.
Seven months later, NASA sent Apollo 8 all the way to the moon using a Saturn V rocket for launching, and an astronaut crew to reach the moon’s orbit, led by Commander Frank Borman.
Mission success allowed the most famous Apollo 11 mission to be launched on July 16, with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.
Propelled by a 3-stage, 363-foot Saturn V rocket using 7.5 million pounds of thrust, the goal was to land on the moon’s surface and have the first humans step foot on the moon.
After 1 ½ orbits, the crew received the “go” for what was called “Translunar Injection.” This was the approval to head for the moon.
Within four days in space, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the Eagle, a lunar module designed for landing, and began descent to the moon.
Collins remained in the Columbia, which was the command module. Landing didn’t happen according to plan as the Sea of Tranquility area of the moon’s surface was less smooth than first thought.
The cool and calm personality of Armstrong allowed him to improvise and manually pilot the ship, with just enough fuel to lift off again.
The computer tried to do too many things at the same time and all of the computer system alarms were sounding as the Eagle descended.
Once there was touchdown, Armstrong radioed saying “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Mission control exploded into celebration. Within a short time after landing, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle and placed the first human foot on another world other than the Earth.
The entire program was being televised with over half a billion people watching.
As Armstrong climbed down the ladder he said his famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong, describing the moon’s surface as “magnificent desolation.”
They spend 2 ½ hours exploring the surface, collecting samples, and taking pictures.
They leave behind the now iconic American flag that contained a patch that honored the Apollo 1 fallen crew, and a plaque on one of the legs of the Eagle that says “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July, 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
Armstrong and Aldrin lift off and dock with the Columbia returning to earth on July 24 with a splashdown off the coast of Hawaii.
The second lunar landing was scheduled for November 1969, with Charles “Pete” Conrad as Commander, with Alan Bean as pilot, and astronaut Richard Gordon.
Although Apollo 12 was Conrad’s third space flight he would be third person to walk on the moon and to spend over a day exploring its surface.
Launched from a Saturn V rocket, mission control lost telemetry two times when the vehicle was struck by lightning.
The CSM Yankee Clipper separated from the rocket and both Conrad and Bean did spacewalks to check for any lightning damage.
After getting 10 hours of sleep, the crew prepared the trajectory for the non-free-return lunar orbit. This was the first hybrid trajectory of the Apollo flights.
The initial liftoff and some of the flight was telecast to Earth, letting the people see the Earth, the moon, the inside of the spacecraft and the intravehicular transfer of the crew.
On November 18th the crew prepared for the separation of the CSM and on the 19th, they began the descent orbit.
There was initial discrepancy between the data readings and the orbit and mission control voice fed the corrections so they could land at the prearranged location.
The Intrepid separated and Conrad and Bean landed in the Ocean of Storms, around 950 miles west of the Apollo 11 landing; leaving Gordon on board.
During the time on the moon the astronauts had a number of jobs to accomplish, including collecting lunar surface samples, deploying the solar wind experiment and the S-band communication antenna.
Sadly, when Bean tried to mount the TV camera on the tripod, it accidently pointed to the sun and burned it out.
After their time on the surface, they returned, ate, recharged their backpacks and prepared for an EVA for the following day.
On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 had Alan Shepard, Commander, Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot, and Stuart Roosa, Command Module Pilot.
The crew had a series of primary objectives which included deployment of a number of experiments, lunar field geology investigations, collection of surface materials to bring back to Earth, and the deployment of a number of scientific instruments.
After liftoff, Apollo 14 did experience some problems with the hard dock procedures which were corrected but never explained.
The module, known as Antares, also experienced a short in the abort switch, which could have halted the descent.
When the Antares touched down it was considered the most precise landing to date, around 87 feet from the landing target point.
The crew experienced communication problems for the first EVA (extra vehicular activity), but it was fixed for the second EVA.
During their time on the moon, the crew conducted experiments and also took some high resolution photographs to assist for the future Apollo 16 landing.
It wasn’t all work, as Commander Shephard had brought a golf club and golf balls and hit the most iconic strike known to man. The golf ball is still on the moon today.
Their liftoff happened exactly on schedule and after rendezvousing with the Kitty Hawk, they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 9th.
The fourth manned-moon landing of Apollo 15 was led by Commander David Scott, with Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin, and Command Module Pilot Alfred M. Worden. Launching on July 26, 1971, the crew’s mission objectives included exploring the Hadley-Apennine region, make engineering evaluations of the newer Apollo equipment, conduct lunar orbital experiments, activate lunar surface scientific experiments and a number of photography tasks.
Apollo 15 was equipped with a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and was the third in a trio of the ALSEPs. The lunar stay was planned for 3 days, and the crew included evaluation of the changes made to the Apollo spacesuits and the portable life support systems.
Some of the most famous images to date continue to be the astronauts riding around in the LRV on the moon’s surface.
One of the biggest experiments was the setup of the subsatellite which was designed to investigate the moon’s variation in gravity and the moon’s mass, as well as the interaction between the moon’s magnetic field and that of Earth.
The crew completed their work and experiments, rendezvoused with the Endeavor and returned to Earth with the largest payload on record: 107,000 pounds.
On April 16, 1972, Apollo 16 launched with John W. Young, Commander, Charles M. Duke, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot, and Thomas K. Mattingly II, Command Module Pilot. The crew had three primary objectives for this launch:
- To inspect, survey, and sample materials and surface features at a selected landing site in the Descartes region.
- Emplace and activate surface experiments.
- Conduct in-flight experiments and photographic tasks from lunar orbit. Additional objectives included performance of experiments requiring zero gravity and engineering evaluation of spacecraft and equipment.
The landing on Descartes was chosen in the moon’s southeast quadrant, which was filled with hills, grooves, and furrowed terrain.
The goal for the landing was to get samples of two volcanic areas and perform a number of surface experiments.
They made use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle and examined some of the updates made to it. Which included new drilling equipment for lunar samples.
The addition of an ultraviolet stellar camera for the return photographs to Earth offered new images of the celestial spectral bands.
The crew had some fun as they were required to perform some exercises with the rover that included S-turns, hairpin turns, and hard stops.
Just before returning to the module for the first time, they deployed a solar wind composition experiment.
The second visit to the lunar surface allowed them to gather core samples, trench samples, and use the Lunar portable magnetometer for measurements.
After docking with the main module, the crew lost altitude control and had to make a spacewalk to retrieve some equipment.
Splashdown was normal and the data that was brought back by Apollo 16 has been critical in understanding areas of the moon.
December, 1972 saw the last mission to the moon that involved astronauts walking on the surface.
The crew consisted of Commander, Eugene A. Cernan; Lunar Module Pilot, Harrison H. Schmitt; and Command Module Pilot, Ronald E. Evans. It’s important to note that Schmitt was the first scientist/astronaut to be sent to the moon.
The landing site of the Taurus-Littrow highlands and valley area was selected due to both younger and older rocks than those that had previously been brought back to Earth.
It was also hoped to be a location to select future Apollo mission landings.
The last of the J-type missions, Apollo 17 had extended hardware, larger payload capacities, and the use of the LRV (Lunar Roving Vehicle).
The objectives for this landing were scientific and included geological surveying, sampling materials, deploying and activating surface experiments, conducting in-flight experiments and various photographic tasks.
Many of the experiments were biomedical including the Biostack II and BIOCORE experiment.
The crew landed and had a total of 22 hours 4 minutes on the lunar surface.
Ronald Evans performed a transearth EVA for a little over an hour, retrieving the lunar sounder film and panoramic and mapping camera film cassettes.
Who was the first astronaut to set foot on the moon?
- How many total manned missions have been sent to the moon?
- Why are there two pilots on each space mission to the moon?
1 for the Command module, 1 for the Lunar module
- Which Apollo mission brought back the largest payload?
- What is EVA abbreviated for?
Extra Vehicular Activity
- What is LRV abbreviated for?
Lunar Roving Vehicle