So far and so near

The final dress-rehearsal mission, Apollo 10, thundered into the skies above Cape Canaveral on 18 May, with the highly experienced crew of Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan onboard. The flight to the Moon and injection into lunar orbit went without a hitch, and once in lunar orbit, Stafford and Cernan boarded the LM, named Snoopy after the dog in the popular Peanuts cartoon strip, and undocked from the CSM (named Charlie Brown after Snoopy's owner).

While Young remained in orbit high above the Moon, his colleagues flew the LM to within 16km (10 miles) of the lunar surface with no major problems, snapping high-resolution photographs of the Sea of Tranquillity, by now selected as the target for Apollo 11. After their close encounter with the Moon, they reunited with the CSM, discarded the LM, and prepared for the long voyage home.

By the time Apollo 10 returned to Earth four days later, even Soviet cosmonaut trainer Nikolai Kamanin was privately admitting that, barring disaster, the Americans would be on the Moon within weeks.

1969

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lunar separation

The Apollo 10 LM Snoopy separates from the Command Module. Onboard, Cernan and Stafford begin tests of the LM's independent performance.

close to the surface

After a 27-second engine burn, the LM has entered an elliptical orbit, with an altitude ranging from 113km (70 miles) to 15.6km (92A miles) from the Moon's surface.

lunar separation

The Apollo 10 LM Snoopy separates from the Command Module. Onboard, Cernan and Stafford begin tests of the LM's independent performance.

close to the surface

After a 27-second engine burn, the LM has entered an elliptical orbit, with an altitude ranging from 113km (70 miles) to 15.6km (92A miles) from the Moon's surface.

mission completed

Snoopy returns from its expedition, reuniting with Charlie Brown. So far as it went, the mission was a complete success, though the LM was not equipped for a landing.

mission completed

Snoopy returns from its expedition, reuniting with Charlie Brown. So far as it went, the mission was a complete success, though the LM was not equipped for a landing.

16 July 1969

Apollo 11 launches from Cape Canaveral on its way to the Moon. Within two hours, it is out of Earth orbit and on its translunar flightpath.

17 July 1969

Michael Collins takes star sightings to compare Apollo 11's theoretical flightpath to its actual one. A three-second mid-course engine burn corrects the trajectory

18 July 1969

The crew transmit a 96-minute guided tour of their spacecraft back to Earth, where it is broadcast live on television.

Voyage to the Moon

The world watched in awe as Apollo 11 sped towards the Moon in mid-July 1969. Now the Space Race was no longer with the Soviet Union, but with Kennedy's self-imposed deadline - and NASA's own good fortune.

19 July 1969

Following a successful retro-rocket burn, Apollo 11 enters orbit around the Moon.

20 July 1969

The LM separates from the CSM and enters an orbit that spirals gradually closer to the Moon. Just over two hours later, Eagle touches down in the Sea of Tranquillity.

At 09:32 local time on 16 July 1969, the huge S-IC first stage of a Saturn V rocket thundered into life on Pad A of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39. Five F-1 engines gradually throttled up to full power, consuming 13,000 litres (3,500 gallons) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen every second. Explosive bolts blew, separating the rocket from its support structure, and the Saturn V slowly lumbered into the sky. A million people lining the nearby highways and beaches cheered as the rocket soared higher, rapidly gaining speed. An estimated 600 million television viewers around the world were watching with them. Within 12 minutes, Apollo 11 was in orbit.

The spacecraft's crew - Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins - had fallen into the frame for the first lunar landing when the decision was made to send Apollo 8 around the Moon (see p.134). They had since been subjected to the most intensive training of their careers, and ferocious media scrutiny. By the time they walked to the pad that fateful morning, they were ready for almost anything. As a crew, they were not socially close - Collins was the most personable, Aldrin perhaps the most intense, while Armstrong had the remote brilliance of a top-gun test pilot. Nevertheless, all were consummate professionals, and as the training instructors conspired to throw countless disaster scenarios at them, they reached a point where each could trust the others with his life.

BIOGRAPHY

neil armstrong

Ohio native Neil Alden Armstrong (b.1930) studied aerospace engineering on a naval scholarship from 1947, as part of which he began service as a US Navy pilot in 1949. After training, he saw action in the Korean War before returning to complete his degree, and upon graduation he applied to become a test for NACA and later NASA. He applied for the second astronaut intake in 1962, and was on the backup crews for Geminis 5 and 11, as well as commanding Gemini 8 (see p.108). After backup duties on Apollo 9, Apollo 11 was his last spaceflight. He worked on the Apollo 13 inquiry before leaving NASA in 1971 to pursue interests in business and education. He also served on the commission investigating the loss of Challenger in 1986 (see p.202-203).

Ohio native Neil Alden Armstrong (b.1930) studied aerospace engineering on a naval scholarship from 1947, as part of which he began service as a US Navy pilot in 1949. After training, he saw action in the Korean War before returning to complete his degree, and upon graduation he applied to become a test for NACA and later NASA. He applied for the second astronaut intake in 1962, and was on the backup crews for Geminis 5 and 11, as well as commanding Gemini 8 (see p.108). After backup duties on Apollo 9, Apollo 11 was his last spaceflight. He worked on the Apollo 13 inquiry before leaving NASA in 1971 to pursue interests in business and education. He also served on the commission investigating the loss of Challenger in 1986 (see p.202-203).

EAGLE in orbit

Michael Collins took this photograph of Apollo 11's Lunar Module as it began to draw away from his CSM on the long spiral down to the Moon. The LM executed a complete rotation outside the CSM's windows, while Collins looked for any signs of damage inflicted by the stresses of launch.

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