Moon landing 50th anniversary
May 15, 2019 - July 20, 2019 - On July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon, declaring, as he stepped on to the lunar surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Just 12 men have walked upon the Moon, and they remain the only human beings to have visited another world. But the moonwalkers were just the most visible face of a vast project -- in total, no fewer than 400,000 people were involved in Project Apollo.
President John F. Kennedy’s bold commitment in 1961 to put a man on the Moon before the decade is out led to a whirlwind of daring firsts, nail-biting close calls, and tragedy.
NASA’s Apollo programme stopped cold on January 27, 1967, when a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a “plugs out” dry run rehearsal, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. In the wake of the tragedy, a new schedule was set, and it was as relentless as ever. The next crewed mission was slated for October 1968, leaving little more than a year before the end of the decade.
Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Service Module (Columbia) Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module (LM) Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
On July 19, Apollo 11 flew behind the Moon, out of contact with Earth, and entered lunar orbit.
On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the LM, made a final check, and separated from Columbia, on its 13th lunar orbit. Problems began immediately as radio links with Earth started to fade in and out.
At Mission Control Flight Director Gene Kranz gave the crew “Go” for powered descent and communication was immediately lost again as the descent engine fired. Unknown to Kranz this triggered a 13-minute life-or-death struggle, 385,000 kilometres from Earth.
Within minutes the onboard computer -- crucial to the landing -- started flashing a “1202” error code that the crew had never before seen -- and the sound of the master alarm filled the tiny cabin.
“Give us a reading on the twelve-oh-two,” Armstrong demanded tensely. At Mission Control a team scrambled to try to find an answer -- the error code meant that the 32K memory of the computer was struggling but still working and able to perform its mission-critical tasks. Armstrong had an answer: “We’re go on that alarm!” Four more error alerts sounded in the cabin. “The same type, we’re go,” Armstrong was told.
But there was another problem -- Armstrong and Aldrin found they had overshot the planned landing zone and were flying over a vast crater field. Running low on fuel, Armstrong searched for a new landing zone through his commander’s window. Mission Control called a 60-second fuel warning.
As Armstrong focused intently on a flat spot ahead, while Aldrin called out speed and range, Mission Control called a 30-second fuel warning. Seconds later, as the descent engine kicked up clouds of dust, a long metal rod that extended from the landing legs touched the lunar plain. A blue light on the console signalled their arrival. Armstrong’s voice crackled from the speakers at Mission Control -- he said simply, “the Eagle has landed.”
An estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong’s televised image as he stepped onto the lunar surface. Kennedy’s dream of putting humans on the Moon by the end of the decade had at last come true.
Graphic News Standards