Apollo Moon missions’ 50th anniversary
October 11, 2018 -- The Apollo programme began 50 years ago with the first manned Apollo space flight which laid the groundwork for the missions that saw a dozen men land on the moon between 1969 and 1972.
The Apollo programme was conceived during Dwight Eisenhower’s administration but was later dedicated to President John F. Kennedy's national goal, proposed in an address to Congress in 1961, of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” by the end of the decade.
Six years after Kennedy’s assassination, the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module, crewed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, successfully landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. A third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit in the Command Module, necessary for retrieving Eagle and returning them all safely to Earth. Five subsequent Apollo missions landed more astronauts on the moon, the last in December 1972. In all, 12 Americans set foot on the moon.
Apollo’s first manned flight took place on October 11, 1968, the date NASA has chosen to begin Apollo’s 50th anniversary commemorations. The space agency (founded in 1958) achieved its goal of a manned lunar landing, despite a major setback in 1967 when Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad, killing the entire crew.
After Apollo 11, sufficient rocket hardware remained for nine follow-up missions but budget cuts forced the cancellation of three of these. Five of the remaining six missions were successful but Apollo 13 was thwarted when a gas tank explosion en route to the moon crippled the Command Module’s propulsion and life support systems. The crew limped back to Earth, using the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat”.