Apollo 11

By Dan Dubrick

Aerospace Historian

     I’m going to start this off with a memory of mine that has never faded. On July 20, 1969, I was in a motel in Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada, with a prairie thunderstorm roaring, and booming, outside. On the black and white television sitting on top of the refrigerator there was one thing, and one thing only on all the channels. Some guy named Neil Armstrong, a civilian, was about step onto the moon while the whole world watched. He even fumbled a bit in his speech; “This is one small step for man..., one giant leap for mankind.” The time was almost 9 PM, which was my bed time, but I was allowed to stay up to watch the two men bunny-hop around the moon. What time I fell asleep I cannot recall, but I was fascinated until I did fall asleep.

     To me this was an awesome thing to see. Over the next few days I watched whatever news was available to see how the mission progressed. As we all know, the mission was completely successful, and on July 24, 1969, the crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins splashed down safely back on Earth.


A bit of history:

     In 1957 Russia placed a satellite called Sputnik 1 into Low Earth Orbit. The batteries in it lasted for 21 days. The satellite lasted for another 2 months. The Space Race was on.

     The United States of America quickly launched satellites into orbit as well, starting with Explorer 1 on January 31, 1959.

     After that the number of satellites launched into space grew, and the rockets to launch them continued as well.

     On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin made his single orbit of the earth and return safely. This was another first from the Russians. Alan Sheppard was the first American to go into space on a Mercury Redstone Rocket. Soviet Gherman Titov was the second man to orbit the earth in a Vostok capsule. And finally, on February 20, 1962, John Glenn made it into space on a Mercury Atlas rocket. He did 3 orbits of the Earth lasting just under 5 hours.

     On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave his moon speech at Rice University Stadium in Houston, TX, to persuade America to support the Apollo program. The early 1960’s were a true time of optimism for the American people. The nation had the confidence and were willing to take chances. They weren’t afraid to take the hard path in order to obtain something amazing. As Kennedy said:   

     “We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

     With that, the Moon Race was on.

     The Gemini missions were next. They proved that 1) the technology did work to keep two men alive in a capsule; 2) man could walk in space; 3) two spacecraft (Gemini 6A and Gemini 7) could rendezvous in orbit; and 4) that a manned mission could last 14 days.

     The Apollo program started with great fanfare in 1966, followed in slightly under a year by a great loss. Gus Grissom, Ed White II, and Roger Chaffee were killed during a test of the Apollo Command Module on January 27, 1967. The mission was originally called AS-204 (Apollo Saturn 204) and was supposed to be a manned launch to low earth orbit. It was renamed by the crew as Apollo 1.

     After the disaster, Apollo was put on hold for a few months while NASA, and both houses of the US congress investigated. The verdict was an electrically triggered fire with combustion, due to the high-pressure oxygen environment and the use of nylon material inside the capsule. Astronaut rescue was prevented by a plug door (one that swings inward and is wider on the inside) hatch, and the high pressure inside the capsule.

     Testing of everything but the manned portion of the Apollo program started back up in November of 1967 when the first Saturn V test flight placed a CSM into high Earth orbit. This included the Lunar Excursion Module which was designed by Canadian Owen Maynard. In fact, the feet used on all the LEM’s were built by Heroux-DEVTEK in Quebec, Canada.

     The first successful manned Apollo flight was Apollo 7 followed by Apollos  8, 9, and 10 which demonstrated that the rest of the hardware would work the way it was intended.

     Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969. The Saturn V rocket consisted of three stages, the Command Module, the Service Module, and the Lunar Module. Once in orbit, systems checks were completed, and the Saturn IV-B pushed the spacecraft into the Trans-Lunar trajectory. Commander Michael Collins undocked the Command-Service Module from the spent Saturn IV-B, flipped the CSM over, and docked with the Lunar Module. The now-complete lunar vehicle was on its three-day journey to the moon. The launch and the events in the beginning of my story showed America had won the Space Race.  

     This, to me, is one of the greatest events in human history. The accomplishments of the United States’ space program shows that people can do amazing things if they are willing to set their minds to it, and are willing to take the risks required to do the task.