Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.” Most everyone knows these iconic words spoken by Apollo 11 Commander Neil A. Armstrong after he and fellow crewmate, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, set the lunar module, called Eagle, on the surface of the Moon 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969. Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in the command and service module (CSM), called Columbia, orbiting above.
Collins revisited Launch Complex 39A, the site of the Apollo 11 launch, and Firing Room 1 in the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 2019, and reminisced about the mission with Center Director Bob Cabana.
The two moonwalkers left behind commemorative medallions bearing the names of the three Apollo 1 astronauts who lost their lives in a launch pad fire, and two cosmonauts who also died in accidents, on the lunar surface. A one-and-a-half inch silicon disk, containing micro miniaturized goodwill messages from 73 countries, and the names of congressional and NASA leaders, also were left on the Moon’s surface. Attached to the descent stage was a commemorative plaque signed by President Richard M. Nixon and the three astronauts.
After resting for about seven hours, Armstrong and Aldrin fired the LM ascent stage to reach an initial orbit of 55 miles above the Moon on July 21, 13 miles below and slightly behind the CSM. Subsequent firings of the reaction control system helped the LM to reach an orbit of 72 miles above the Moon. The LM docked with the CSM on the CSM’s 27th revolution. Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the CSM with Collins for the trip back to Earth. The LM was jettisoned four hours later and remained in lunar orbit, until it crashed on the Moon.
The Apollo 11 crew initiated re-entry procedures on July 24, 44 hours after leaving lunar orbit. The service module separated from the crew module. Collins re-oriented the crew module to a heat-shield-forward position for the descent to Earth. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 13 miles from the recovery ship USS Hornet, and was retrieved. Apollo 11 was NASA’s first mission to send astronauts to step on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. Five more Moon landings would follow before the Apollo Program ended in 1972.
Now, NASA is planning to establish a foundation for sustainable human presence on and around the Moon with commercial and international partners. Through the Artemis program, the agency will land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024. Then the agency will use what it learns on the Moon and take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
“I think it’s a noble goal. It’s much more extensive than Apollo. It’s part of a bigger picture,” Sieck said.
Saturday, July 20, 2019