Mankind’s Greatest Adventure: Celebrating the Men and Mission of Apollo 11

by Chris on July 19, 2009 · 17 comments

in Manly Knowledge, Travel & Leisure


40 years ago today on July 20, 1969, a decade of preparation and centuries of imagination culminated in man’s first steps onto a celestial body other than Earth.  As Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the Lunar Module Eagle, he uttered the timeless words that would forever stand as testament to mankind’s ability to achieve greatness in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges.

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The following is a tribute to the men and mission of Apollo 11 and to the courage of those who had the will to pursue the dream of space.

On May 25, 1961, some 48 years ago and at the height of the space race, President John F. Kennedy stood before a Joint Session of Congress and made a bold statement that set events in motion that, for the remainder of the decade, would captivate the world.

“First, 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 back safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

He would further reiterate this goal to the American people at a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962.  In this, one of the finer presidential speeches ever delivered, Kennedy offered the reasoning behind such a daring mission, and it is one that speaks to the hearts of all men, even today.

At the time of Kennedy’s speech before Congress, America had not yet even placed a man into orbit around the Earth, much less the moon, a target more than 240,000 miles away.  And yet, NASA rose to the challenge. Following the successes of the Projects Mercury and Gemini, NASA engineers immediately began work on several missions that would culminate in the daunting task of placing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth: Project Apollo.

The Apollo Program suffered a tragic setback in its opening moments when a spark inside the sealed cockpit of the Apollo 1 ignited the oxygen rich atmosphere of the command module during a preliminary test, killing all three astronauts inside.  Later investigations would expose significant design errors with the command module and the astronaut’s spacesuits, leading to a major overhaul of the equipment employed in the Apollo Program.  The disaster of Apollo 1 did not bring an end to Project Apollo, however, and the program continued on soon thereafter.  Several unmanned missions followed Apollo 1 (Apollo 4, 5, 6) which allowed NASA to test the new equipment of the Apollo program, including the massive Saturn V rocket, the most powerful machine ever built by the hands of man. The Saturn V rocket would be used to launch the ensuing Apollo astronauts out of Earth’s orbit and into their trajectory to the moon.

Manned missions were initiated again with Apollo 7, and the rapid pace of the Apollo Program was now in full swing.  On December 24, 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 looked upon the far side of the moon for the first time in the history of mankind.  The mission also provided the astronauts Lovell, Anders, and Borman the opportunity to take the first ever photograph of an earthrise.

First Earthrise photographed by man

Several subsequent missions allowed for the testing of various equipment in lunar orbit, culminating in the first mission to attempt a manned landing: Apollo 11.

Chosen for the crew of Apollo 11 were three veteran astronauts, all of whom had flown in various Gemini missions in the years prior.  Mission Commander Neil Armstrong was a former Navy combat aviator and test pilot known for being the first to pilot the experimental X-15 rocket plane into the edge of space.  Command Module Pilot Michael Collins was a West Point graduate who had also previously worked as a test pilot.  Finally, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, also a West Point graduate, was another previous combat pilot who also held a doctorate in astronautics from MIT.

Apollo 11 Astronauts

From left: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin

Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Mission Commander and natural born leader, was selected to be the first man to step foot on the moon upon the successful landing of the Lunar Module Eagle. Soon after Armstrong’s departure from the Lunar Module, Buzz Aldrin would join him on the lunar surface, while Michael Collins would remain in the Command Module in a low lunar orbit.

At 9:32 on July 16, 1969, the fires of the enormous Saturn V rocket thrust the men of Apollo 11 into space.  Back in Houston, Mission Control Chief Gene Kranz gathered his senior team around for a few final words.

“From the day of our birth, we were meant for this time and place, and today we will land a man on the moon … No person will leave or enter this room until we land, we crash or we abort. Those were the only three options.”

Three days later lunar orbit was achieved, and the Lunar Module separated from the Command Module with Armstrong and Aldrin inside.  Equipment errors during descent provided several tense moments for the men back in Mission Control, and the pilots had to locate a new landing area in the Sea of Tranquility, but with a remarkable 17 seconds of fuel remaining, the Eagle had landed.

8 years, 1 month and 26 days after Kennedy made his first challenge to NASA to put a man on the moon, Neil Armstrong opened the Eagle’s hatch and stepped out into another world, the first man ever to do so.  Not long after, Buzz Aldrin joined him on the surface, and the two spent more than 2 ½ hours collecting surface material.  Before reentering the Lunar Module, the men planted an American flag on the lunar surface and in some video clips can clearly be seen saluting Old Glory.  Upon reentering the capsule, they rested for seven hours before lifting off to rendezvous with the Command Module and CM Pilot Michael Collins.  Man had stepped foot on the moon at last.

The Apollo 11 mission returned safely to Earth, and the ensuing Apollo missions (12-17) would continue in its footsteps, all successfully landing on the lunar surface with the exception of Apollo 13 which had to abort its lunar landing.  The Apollo missions gradually became more complex, employing the use of various equipment on the surface, including the eventual use of the Lunar Rover.  On December 14, 1972, Commander Eugene Cernan became the last man to date to climb back up the ladder and depart from the lunar surface.

“When John F. Kennedy said we’re going to go to the moon, he was asking people to do the impossible. He’s asking us to do what can’t be done. Yet it’s all written in history now. The technology is obsolete; you hold more of it in your hand, with a cell phone, than I had in my hands when I landed on the moon. Yet it’s the human endeavor that endures — what we can do if we want it bad enough.” -Eugene Cernan

Plans for the next generation of lunar exploration are already underway, and NASA currently has a stated goal of returning to the moon by 2019.  As we wait for this event with great anticipation, we can only hope that it will reignite the zeal for space exploration that gripped the world in the 1960’s, leading us farther out into our solar system and into the great frontier of space.

“An age may come when Project Apollo is the only thing by which most people remember the United States, or even the world of their ancestors, the distant planet Earth” -Arthur C. Clarke

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TheManRevolution July 19, 2009 at 11:29 pm

I can’t wait till man finally lands in another planet, and hopefully discovers life outside of earth. I hope I’m alive if that ever happens.

2 Kate July 19, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Great post Chris. It’s amazing to think that we put people on the moon 40 years ago, before cell phones and the internet, and we haven’t been back in more than 3 decades. I think we forget the enormity of that accomplishment, to look up at the moon and think, “We put men on that thing!” I was just talking to my uncle who was a kid at the time and he said how neat it was, how it captivated everyone’s attention. And how everyone felt sure that space travel would be almost routine by now. It’s a shame that it isn’t and I hope our country can rekindle that spirit of adventure and can-doism that we once had.

3 Hutch July 20, 2009 at 5:09 am

Thanks Kate! I couldn’t agree more. Few things have united our nation and the world like the space program, particularly in its early years, and yet now it is sadly left neglected. Underbudgeted and with goals lacking real ambition, the space program needs a reboot. Unfortunately, it looks as though it may not be getting that any time soon, as further cuts or even cancellation of the new Constellation program are being considered. I think our biggest hope for space lies in the private domain, where companies like SpaceX and others are taking the innovative steps needed to further reach out into the stars. Maybe upon the success of such companies the government will recognize its failure in exploration and rush to catch up. Space is, after all, our new Manifest Destiny. Hopefully soon we will embrace it as such.

Here’s an interesting article on the subject if you’d like more info…

4 runescape gold July 20, 2009 at 5:22 am

I hope Buzz isn’t losing his mind. The whole space program is a boondoggle and has to be scrapped. It is 100% useless and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

5 runescape money July 20, 2009 at 5:24 am

Just so you know, I hope Obama doesn;t unveil some mission to mars plan because he will get laughed at just like Bush did.

6 Hutch July 20, 2009 at 6:17 am


I would hardly call the invention of the smoke detector, medical imaging, satellite dishes, portable electronics, LED’s, laser surgery, water prufication, etc a boondoggle. All these inventions and many many more resulted from NASA technology.

7 Tommy C July 20, 2009 at 9:23 am

Those who criticize the space program for being useless are generally extremely ignorant of its accomplishments and unwilling to imagine future challenges. Granted I’m a bit biased considering I’m wearing my NASA badge right now (hurrah internships!), but I cannot understand why anyone would claim that it is a waste of tax payer dollars when so many defense projects simply destroy any idea of economical thinking.

Just to make a quick budget argument, NASA gets just under $19 billion, which is a considerable amount, but it is still less than 1% of the US budget. The Air Force actually has a bigger space budget than NASA does, so for such a (relatively) low price, we keep men in a permanent space laboratory, fly resupply missions, launch telescopes, probes, and develop the technology that everyone will be using in a few years (thanks Hutch for that run down, and add joy sticks and dust busters on the list too, lol).

All that being said, when I finally make it out to a real job, I have my heart set on a private space venture. I agree that NASA seems to be becoming bogged down in the bureaucracy of being a government agency. I believe that the return to the Moon and the first trips to Mars will be NASA projects though, since no space company that I know of flings around so much for the pure goal of exploration. Either way, I get the impression that companies such as Space X and Virgin Galactic hold on to that ballsy, Apollo way of thinking: We’re going to make it into space, no matter the challenge, no matter the obstacle, not matter the sacrifice.

At any rate, the Apollo astronauts and all the scientists and engineers behind them are an inspiration to create a better world for ourselves. Nothing makes me happier going into work than seeing the Saturn V standing majestically in the distance, its the rocket that makes me and who knows how many others push themselves to get off this rock for ourselves in pursuit of the next great adventure.

8 Hutch July 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

@ Tommy C,

Very well said. I’m extremely jealous that you scored an internship at NASA. Well done!

9 Daniel July 20, 2009 at 5:50 pm

TommyC, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Virgin Galactic primarily a tourist-oriented enterprise? From what I’ve heard, their main service is launching millionaires into low orbit and then bringing them back down. Granted, this is significant, but I see SpaceX as being more the pioneer.

I think it’s telling that the crew of Apollo 11 are pushing for space travel beyond the moon. After all, they’re the pioneers. If we want to do what they do, we should use them as role models.

And finally, for those keeping up (or trying) with the Apollo 11 tributes today, check out which gives an overview of the tributes, the mission, and what those mean for the future of space travel.

10 Matt July 20, 2009 at 5:54 pm

@ Tommy C,

I agree with your post. And by the way, when you mention seeing the Saturn V sitting there when you go to work everyday, I assume you are interning at the Marshal Space Center in Huntsville, Al? I was fortunate enough to spend my first year in college at UAH right across the interstate, I could actually see the tip of the Saturn V from my dorm window. Good luck in your career with NASA.

Another amazing thing about the Apollo missions is that the technology used in today’s calculators are more advanced than the majority of that used in the Lunar Landing. Just imagine what would be possible if NASA still had the budget it had from the 1960s. Today NASA receives less that 1% of the budget, back then NASA received approximately 25% of the budget if I have read correctly. I am very excited about the future of space exploration, namely the goal of returning to the Moon by 2020.

And to the posts

11 Tommy C July 21, 2009 at 9:07 am

@Daniel: Virgin Galactic is tourism oriented, but Burt Rutan is a design genius; I would be tickled to just work within a thousand miles of him. Besides, tourism or just launching satellites, its the getting to space part that’s cool. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of exploration when it comes to private business. If you wanna do that, its all NASA.

@Matt: Yup, I’m hanging out at Marshall. I grew up in Athens, just a couple miles to the west, but I’m generally in Atlanta these days for school. I got a few friends over at UAH though, good school. I nearly ended up there myself.

As for the budget, I just looked it up and surprisingly it topped off at 5.5% of the budget in 1966, but it wasn’t even that high for most of the 60′s. I was thinking it was a good bit higher than that, too. Granted, they still had over $20 billion a year for most of the decade (over $30 for three years, and those are in 2007 dollars), so there was still a ton more funding than there is now. The funny thing is (well more sad) that most people still think that NASA comprises a massive portion of the budget. A recent poll said that an outrageous portion of America thinks that NASA has over a quarter of the budget (I wish I could find the article). Either way, they’ll make due with what they have.

12 R. J. Vincent August 13, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I remember watching the Apollo missions when I was a kid. A lot of us wanted to be astronauts when we grew up. As far as those people who thing the space program is a waste, where do you think the technology for your home computer, cell phone and many of the other gadgets we take for granted came from? As far as Virgin Galactic, their goal is to eventually make spaceflight affordable for everyone. I’ve heard it said that space tourism today is where aviation was in the 1920′s. It was a novelty only for the rich. Now flying is a commonplace activity. As the technology advances and the ships become larger and more capable, the cost per person will eventually come down. The current equipment is only the first phase of the project. Give it time. It took ten years to get to the moon the first time.

13 Chris October 6, 2009 at 1:54 am

Following the dreams that make us human…namely exploring what’s “over the next hill” helps define being human. I think it quite sad that some would think such endeavors are “boondoggles” and not worthy of taxpayer money. If human exploration isn’t worth taxpayer dollars then what is? What happened to creating a vision of the future and then striving to meet it?

14 Arjun October 18, 2009 at 10:30 am

I was just blown away to find out a few things about the Apollo program recently:

1. That mission control engineers and astronauts used slide rules for calculation. Jesus, they didn’t even have pocket calulators??!.
2. That the crew of Apollo 13 had to navigate manually to get back to Earth.
3. That the rocket carrying Apollo 8 crew, was only third Saturn V vehicle ever launched, the previous one having failed!
4. That the Apollo guidance computer which took men to the moon ran at a spectacular 1Mhz with a full 2KB of memory!

I salute the men who made of the Apollo possible.

15 metin2 yang November 18, 2009 at 11:55 pm

metin2 yang
metin2 yang

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