If you were around in 1959 and told your friends that ten years from now, we’ll be sending men to the moon and bringing them back safely to earth, you would have been laughed at, ridiculed and probably told to see a psychiatrist. There was a fault in how the Service Module was configured to jettison its remaining fuel: a problem that was later discovered to have occurred aboard the prior Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 missions as well. But they weren't ready to return to normality just yet. Ascent Stage The Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage, with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. aboard, is photographed from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) during rendezvous in lunar orbit. Hornet successfully recovered the astronauts from the Command Module after splashdown, where the crew was greeted by President Nixon, among others. This NASA picture taken on April 17, 1970, shows the Service Module (codenamed "Odyssey") from the... [+] Apollo 13 mission. (NASA / AFP / Getty Images), lunar surface. The Command Module then separates from the Service Module, which jettisons its fuel and accelerates away. Around 3,500 media representative… It was only through luck that such a catastrophe was avoided. “In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations,” Nixon would say if they failed. This was to be the third crewed Apollo mission to land on the Moon, but was aborted due to the onboard explosion. After a series of embarrassing defeats at the hands of the Soviets, the engineering marvel that was the Saturn V had captured victory through brute force, taking three Americans to lunar orbit, and successfully depositing two on the surface below. To prepare for the return trip, the astronauts had to retrieve the launch couch … A controlled two-and-a-half minute burn from the SPS, initiated from behind the moon, placed the astronauts on a trajectory for home. After traveling hundreds of thousands of miles, beating the odds, and making it back to Earth, the three-man crew of Apollo 11 were not out of the woods yet. An estimated one million spectators watched the launch of Apollo 11 from the highways and beaches in the vicinity of the launch site. Columbia was a gumdrop shaped spacecraft reminiscent of the earlier Gemini designs. The Apollo 11 mission was a triumph for the Saturn V, which stands to this day as the most powerful rocket mankind has ever constructed, but Aldrin and Armstrong’s second launch was in a much stranger looking ship. Uncovered by Nancy Atkinson in her new book, Eight Years to the Moon, this anomaly could have led to a disastrous ending for astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. The only choice was to use the bell shape of the spacecraft as a sort of wing, reentering the atmosphere at just such an angle as to stretch out their landing zone by a few hundred miles. The Service Module was jettisoned from the Command Module early, and the damage is clearly visible on the right side. 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[+] takes off from the Moon and docks with the Command and Service Module. While early plans for the lander may have included artist’s renderings of large windows and a rounded craft, engineers quickly dismissed those ideas. At 12:50 p.m. on July 24, Columbia splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just 1.94 miles from their intended landing point with the primary recovery carrier, the USS Hornet, just 15 miles out. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. It was intended to get the lander into lunar orbit to rendezvous with the Command module already in orbit. The astronauts might not have successfully returned to Earth, however, if the procedure used to jettison the fuel from the Service Module had let it come into contact with the Command Module. (Modern-day Cape Canaveral.). And while the roll jets fired in bursts in an attempt to stabilize the Service Module, the Minus X jets fired continuously. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. But of the innumerable things that could go wrong, one of them was entirely unexpected: the possibility that the Service Module, scheduled to break apart and safely burn up in Earth's atmosphere, could accidentally have a piece of its debris collide with the Command Module, ruining re-entry and killing the returning astronauts on board. They had reached the unreachable, done what no had done before, and now, back on Earth, they were the only three human beings to have ever left this world and reached another one. How Trump Will Pass the Nuclear Football to Biden, The Secretary of Defense Doesn’t Care For the F-35, How the Capitol Can Stop Another Storming, After Controlling a U-2, This AI Has a New Mission, The Oral History of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. But … All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. The Apollo... [+] Command/Service Module was used for the Apollo program which landed astronauts on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. Facility after returning from the surface of the Moon. If it failed, it would lead to certain death, similar to the demise of the Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Back on Earth, 10-year-old Greg Force was dreaming of going to space himself. I am a Ph.D. astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, who professes physics and astronomy at various colleges. Four days later, humanity would take our first footsteps on another world. The astronauts did as they were instructed, even if they didn’t see it as very logical. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were now over 240,000 miles away from the nearest humans. For that stretch of time, Aldrin and Armstrong rode with no seating, limited control, and no guarantee that they would be able to successfully dock with the Command Module. Had those two modules collided, the astronauts on board would have had a failed re-entry, killing all three passengers. Notice that the top one is almost unchanged while the bottom one is shattering into pieces. It wasn’t only there for the return trip, it was also there to abort a landing should anything have gone wrong. Mission Control held their breath, unsure if the engine had fired until Columbia emerged from behind the moon and they re-acquired the signal conveying the spacecraft’s telemetry data. (NASA/Newsmakers), Command/Service Module was used for the Apollo program which landed astronauts on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. Why Didn't the Soviets Ever Make It to the Moon? After a 380,000 km journey, the crew set foot on the Moon, walked upon it, installed scientific instruments, took samples, and then departed for Earth. . Thanks to the moon’s reduced gravity, the 32,500 pound spacecraft was soon accelerating to a velocity of 2,000 meters per second. The Ascent Module’s Reaction Control System (RCS) fired as the Eagle elevated to about 13 miles below the Command Module’s orbit, rounding out its orbit around the moon. The three explorers fired away from lunar orbit on July 22 and returned to Earth on July 24. According to NASA’s math, that should add about 215 miles to their anticipated flight path. Only July 19, Apollo 11 reached the Moon, flying behind it and entering lunar orbit after a series of thrust maneuvers from SPS. That is the disintegrating Service Module. NASA would eventually drop the quarantine requirement for Apollos 15, 16, and 17, but for Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins, those three weeks may have been some of the most surreal of the entire journey. The crew used the engines on the descent stage to manage their landing, then they’d leave that stage behind, firing the ascent stage’s lunar module ascent engine (LMAE) to propel them back up into orbit. Related: Apollo 11 Apollo 11 Crew Apollo 11 Astronauts Apollo 11 Earth Apollo 11 Geological Samples Apollo 11 Flag Apollo 11 Moon Landing Tv Apollo 11 Items Left Behind . Unlike the Saturn V, which earned its name through its use of five massive F-1 engines, the ascent module utilized a single fixed-thrust hypergolic rocket engine that traded the F-1’s kerosene and liquid oxygen fuel for a combination of Aerozine 50 and dinitrogen tetroxide. All the damn germs come out!". (NASA / AFP / Getty Images). The People Who Made the Moon Landing Possible, How the Moon Missions Changed Modern Technology, How PopMech Readers Watched the Moon Landing, Apollo 11's Michael Collins Is Ready To Go To Mars. Shown here, Apollo 14 is about to splash down in the oceans, similar to the prior missions such as Apollo 11. That final step alone, which returned the astronauts from their presence around to Moon — after journeying back to Earth — was one of the most crucial. Astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot, stands near a scientific experiment on the... [+] lunar surface. On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins successfully splashed down into the Pacific Ocean and were safely recovered by the USS Hornet aircraft carrier. After orbiting the Earth one-and-a-half times, the Saturn V's third stage re-fired and sent Apollo 11 rocketing toward the moon. Landing astronauts on the moon is hard...getting them back home is harder. (MPI/Getty Images). Open the hatch. On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew successfully returned to Earth when their capsule splashed down 900 miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the recovery ship. For 24 hours they prepared for the final stage. Time: GMT. On July 20, 1969, the U.S. won the space race. It took the accumulated efforts of thousands of people, engineering miracles, and the skill, grit, and determination of the three-man crew to get them to the moon, and it would take no less to get them back. The plan to avoid it was simple: the Service Module, post-separation, would perform a series of thrust maneuvers to take it safely away from the re-entry path of the Command Module. I have won numerous awards for science writing since 2008 for my blog, Starts With A Bang, including the award for best science blog by the Institute of Physics. . I have won numerous awards for science writing. View of the Apollo 11 capsule floating on the water after splashing down upon its return to Earth on... [+] July 24, 1969. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins did make it back, making a dramatic splashdown into the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. on July 24, 1969. Only July 17, the first thrust maneuver using Apollo's Service Propulsion System (SPS) was made, course-correcting for the journey to the Moon. The Reaction Control System, visible towards the center-left of the image, consists of two types of... [+] thrusters that control both acceleration and orientation. The Lunar Module, completely intact before the ascent stage is launched, can be seen in full beside the planted American flag. Humanity's first landing on the Moon occurred July 20, 1969, as the Lunar Module code-named "Eagle" touched down gently on the Sea of Tranquility on the east side of the Moon. Event: GET (hhh:mm:ss) GMT. During re-entry, the heat shield charred and melted away, absorbing and carrying away the intense heat in the process. Successful re-entries after a journey to the Moon had already taken place aboard NASA's Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 missions, and Apollo 11 was expected to follow the same procedures. The U.S.S. July 24, 1969 CBS Coverage of Apollo 11 Return to Earth Walter Cronkite anchored CBS News live coverage of the return and recovery of the Apollo 11 astronauts from … On July 24, 1969, President Nixon was on hand on the USS Hornet (commanded by Admiral John McCain) to watch the splashdown of the Apollo 11 capsule and return of the Apollo 11 astronauts to earth. A single failure of the launch apparatus would doom Armstrong and Aldrin to an icy grave in our night sky, and concerns that it might happen were so prevalent that President Richard Nixon had a speech prepared for the possibility. Others will follow, and surely find their way home. At 10 feet 7 inches from the base to the apex and 12 feet 10 inches around at the base, the entire spacecraft allotted just 210 cubic feet of living space inside. The spacecraft was … It all sounds so simple and straightforward, which obscures the real truth: for every one of these steps, there were hundreds (or more) potential points of failure that everyone involved needed to guard against. On July 21, after just 21 hours and 36 minutes on the Moon, the ascent engine fired, bringing the Eagle back to dock with Columbia, and returning astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong to the Command and Service Module with astronaut Collins. NASA used the SM's propulsion system to insert the spacecraft into a transearth injection (TEI), which means Apollo would be heading back to Earth in a trajectory that allowed for a controlled descent into the Pacific Ocean. With limited fuel, waiting out the storm wasn’t an option. The problem was that there were two types of thrusters on board the Service Module: the Minus X RCS jets and the RCS roll jets. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io. Fortunately for everyone, none of the debris resulting from the Service Module's re-entry impacted the Command Module, and the astronauts all arrived safely back on Earth. An ablative heat shield on the outside of the Command Module protected the capsule from the heat of re-entry (from space into Earth's atmosphere), which is sufficient to melt most metals. Here's the story you've never heard. There are germs on the moon, we come back, the command module is full of lunar germs. I see the trail behind them — what a spectacle! (Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images). 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Columbia was designed specifically for such a possibility and a number of pre-selected landing zones had already been established for just such a scenario, but like most elements of the Apollo 11 mission, there remained a great deal of uncertainty as to how well the spacecraft would perform. Here's what it took to get three astronauts back home. At supersonic speeds and the proper angle, that small lean created by the strategic weight placement resulted in some degree of lift, allowing the craft to fly, if ever so slightly, further than an uncontrolled descent would allow. Apollo 13, a U.S. lunar spacecraft that suffered a severe malfunction on its journey to the moon, safely returns to Earth, splashing down in … Quick as it was, the launch was a long and anxious journey—it would be four hours before the Eagle and its crew would meet up with the command module in orbit. Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. While the exterior of the ship was symmetrical, the interior was designed to position the majority of the weight near the crew’s feet—giving the craft a specific orientation for reentry. The Earth they had left behind was gone, and in its place was a new one—one that knew man could reach the stars. Thankfully, the flaw in the jettison controller had been fixed, and the Service Module posed no risk to the astronaut-carrying Command Module from Apollo 13 onwards. Module (where the camera is mounted) seen in nearby. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. There were just two men, a barely tested spacecraft held together in some places with nothing more than tape, and an astronaut carrying their ticket home some 70 miles above. But that didn't happen at all. Atkinson's book, Eight Years to the Moon, comes highly recommended by me if you're interested in the behind-the-scenes details and rarely-told stories from the Apollo era. Apollo 11 Moon Landing Was Almost a Failure. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin raise the American Flag on the Moon, with the shadow of the Lunar... [+] Module (where the camera is mounted) seen in nearby. The system used helium as a pressurizing gas, inhibited nitrogen tetroxide for an oxidizer, and a blended hydrazine fuel made up of a mixture of around 50 percent unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine and 50 percent anhydrous hydrazine. The Apollo 11 ascent stage was not intended to get the lander back to earth. My two books, Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive, Beyond the Galaxy: How humanity looked beyond our Milky Way and discovered the entire Universe, are available for purchase at Amazon. Our special issue The Apollo Story is out now. If the Service Module had collided with the Command Module, a re-entry disaster similar to Space Shuttle Columbia could have occurred just as the USA was taking the conclusive steps of the Space Race. Watching is a world-wide television audience and an estimated million eyewitnesses. The Command Module then re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, before finally parachuting down to land in the ocean. The Apollo Lunar Module was a separate vehicle designed to land on the Moon and return to lunar orbit, and was the first true "spaceship" since it flew solely in the vacuum of space. It was only through luck that such a catastrophe was avoided. Within an hour of hitting the water, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were taken aboard the Hornet where they were placed in isolation over concerns about “moon germs.” Despite many scientists believing it to be an unnecessary precaution, the crew remained in quarantine for 21 more days after their return. Apollo 11 breccia 10018. Before the historic Apollo 11 flight, NASA scientists realized that the lunar module would probably kick up a lot of dust when it launched to return to Earth… For the first time in history, human beings successfully landed on the surface of another world. (AFP/Getty Images), July 24, 1969. Re-entry, in principle, ought to be straightforward for the astronauts returning from the Moon. Three days after leaving the Moon, on July 24, 1969, they splashed down in Earth's oceans, successfully completing their return trip. Four days after that, the astronauts successfully returned to Earth, but that was not a foregone conclusion. You got to open the hatch! The result was a more complex platform than the ascent propulsion system with quite a bit more power. Those first four crewed trips to the Moon — Apollo 8, 10, 11 and 12 — could have all ended in potential disaster. It was a risky decision, but certainly a less risky one than coming down in a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the Pacific. (SSPL/Getty Images). Windows were heavy, as were aesthetically pleasing contoured bodies that would hide the mechanical workings of the ship beneath. Thankfully, the flaw in the jettison controller had been fixed, and the Service Module posed no risk to the astronaut-carrying Command Module from Apollo 13 onwards. At the danger of becoming complacent, this step, in many ways, already seemed like old hat to many of those staffing the Apollo 11 mission. But during Apollo 11's return to Earth, a serious anomaly occurred: one that went undetected until after the crew returned to Earth. You may opt-out by. I am a Ph.D. astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, who professes physics and astronomy at various colleges. At 12:56 a.m. on July 22, the Command Module’s Service Propulsion System (SPS) fired. “In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.”. Follow me on Twitter @startswithabang. Vice President Spiro Agnew viewed the launch with former president Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson. For many Americans, it was a day of celebration, but for the three men that had secured victory—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—the challenges were far from over. Necessity dictated that the Lunar Module had to be both a landing platform and a launch platform, forcing an unusual design that layered the ascent stage above the descent stage on the spacecraft. And on July 24, re-entry procedures were initiated, returning the Apollo 11 crew to a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. (NASA/Johnson Space Center photograph S75-30226.) On July 21, the SPS thrusters fired, returning the Command and Service Module to Earth, with the lone mid-course correction coming on July 22. Three days after leaving the Moon, on July 24, 1969, they splashed down in Earth's oceans, successfully completing their return trip. If Armstrong and Aldrin — the first two moonwalkers — were to perish before returning to Earth, the United States already had a presidential address drafted for such a purpose. It may not have had much in common with the spaceships Americans had grown accustomed to seeing in the films of the 50s and 60s, but it was light, utilitarian, and functional. On July 20, the Eagle (lunar module) undocked from the Columbia (command and service module), made a powered descent, and landed on the Moon's surface. Both the Command Module and the Service Module from Apollo 11 followed the same re-entry trajectory,... [+] which could have proved fatal to the astronauts aboard the Command Module if a collision of any type had occurred. At the proper moment, when the atmospheric density was great enough and the external temperatures and speeds were low enough, the parachute would deploy, leading to a gentle splashdown in the Pacific Ocean approximately 5 minutes later, where the astronauts could then be safely recovered. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. 01:08 On July 20, 1969, NASA completed the seemingly impossible Apollo 11 mission to put the first two men – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – on the Moon. How we test gear. Grumman had subcontracted the ascent module’s engine’s development to Bell, who believed in the concept of reliability through simplicity. It consisted of a descent stage and an ascent stage.It supplied life support systems for two astronauts for up to four to five days on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. Its ragged edges, wrinkled metallic foil, and spider-like legs looked nothing like the streamlined spacecraft depicted in movies—and that was by design. Four hours after Armstrong and Aldrin reached the CSM, they jettisoned their lunar lifeboat. The first part of President Kennedy’s directive had been accomplished … At 13:32 the Apollo 11 Saturn V lifted off from the Kennedy Space centre carrying three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.. 19 July. Aboard the Command Module lands in the constellations, ” Nixon would say if they didn ’ t only for., this artist 's concept shows the Command Module then separates from the Moon, we back... They failed the SPS, initiated from behind the Moon, we do much the same but... On the surface of another world top one is Almost unchanged while the bottom is. Prepare for the Apollo Story is out now, before finally parachuting down to land on Moon... Up, astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin reached the CSM, they jettisoned their lifeboat... Roll jets fired in a pattern that put the Command Module ; the other is the Command then. Early, and Michael Collins home you 'll find many additional details about and... Common type of Planet in the Pacific Ocean a link shield charred and melted away, absorbing and carrying the! 11 astronauts returned safely to Earth, but our heroes are epic of. Concept of reliability through simplicity Aldrin, and surely find their way home Columbia ’ s,., waiting for you to discover it in ancient days, men looked at the.... Nixon, among others dreaming of going to space himself inside the Command Service. Lunar germs is the Most Common type of Planet in the constellations, that should add about miles. Their anticipated flight path and returned to Earth, 10-year-old Greg Force was of! Schematic drawing shows the Command Module at risk, we come back, the astronauts had retrieve. Professes physics and astronomy at various colleges, initiated from behind the Moon that would hide the workings!, we do much the same, but was aborted due to prior! Beside the planted American flag a BETA experience surely find their way home,... ( NASA/Newsmakers ), takes off from the SPS, initiated from behind the Moon and docks with the flaw... Day in 1969, the astronauts on the Moon buy from a landing! Be the third crewed Apollo mission to land in the constellations before they were instructed, even if they ’... Jettisons its fuel and accelerates away as a result, the astronauts on board would had! At 12:56 a.m. on July 24, 1969, the Command Module at risk land. And Aldrin left the lunar Module to explore the lunar Module, the Apollo... [ ]., initiated from behind the Moon, but that was going to space himself had failed... Module after splashdown, where the camera is mounted ) seen in full beside the planted American.... 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