Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

The Journey Home

Ascent From the Moon

Armstrong and Aldrin stayed on Moon for just more 21 hours-two-and-a-half hours of which were spent outside the Lunar Module exploring and conducting scientific experiments. At 1:53 pm on July 21 the astronauts lifted off from the Moon in the module's ascent stage and then rendezvoused with Collins and the orbiting spacecraft. The three explorers fired away from lunar orbit on July 22 and returned to Earth on July 24.

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.

The Lunar Module (LM) was making its docking approach to the CSM. Astronaut Michael Collins remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while the other two crewmen explored the lunar surface. After docking, astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to Columbia with Collins, the LM ascent stage was jettisoned, and the return trip to Earth began.

Apollo 11 Lunar Module Ascent Stage Photographed from Command Module
Apollo 11 Lunar Module Ascent Stage Photographed from Command Module

The large, dark-colored area in the background is Smyth's Sea, centered at 85 degrees east longitude and 2 degrees south latitude on the lunar surface (nearside). This view looks west. The Earth rises above the lunar horizon.

Ascent Engine


This engine lifted the ascent stage (upper section) of a Lunar Module off the surface of the Moon. The ascent stage then docked with the orbiting Command and Service Modules. The ascent engine had to perform with high reliability; a serious malfunction could have stranded the astronauts on the Moon.

The ascent engine provides 1587 kilograms (3500 pounds) of thrust. The engine burns liquid propellants: the fuel is 50% hydrazine and 50% unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine; the oxidizer is nitrogen tetroxide. These propellants are hypergolic; that is, they ignite spontaneously when brought together in the rocket's combustion chamber.

Apollo Lunar Module Ascent Engine
Apollo Lunar Module Ascent Engine

Reentry


After the journey back from the Moon, the Apollo 11 command module sheds flaming pieces of its protective ablative covering as it hurtles through the Earth atmosphere toward splash down, July 24, 1969. Although the photograph gives the impression of fiery destruction of the spacecraft, the ablative material was performing as it was designed to. By vaporizing and burning away, it protected the interior of the spacecraft from the searing heat caused by friction with the atmosphere.

Apollo 11 Reentry
Apollo 11 Reentry

After Splashdown

21-Day Quarantine

The astronauts were required to stay inside the facility in medical isolation for 21 days. These extraordinary measures were a precaution against an uncertain threat of contagion. The moon proved to be barren of life so this post-flight procedure was dropped after the Apollo 14 mission.

The Biological Isolation Garment
This garment was designed to prevent the spread of any alien organisms the astronauts might have acquired during their journey or while on the Moon. The suits were donned after splashdown and worn until the astronauts arrived at the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the recovery aircraft carrier. With the astronauts isolated inside, the facility was flown to Ellington Air Force Base.

Apollo Aldrin Isolation Garment
Apollo Aldrin Isolation Garment

Mobile Quarantine Facility
The Apollo 11 crew, still under a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their spouses after arrival at Ellington Air Force Base. The astronauts are looking through the window of the Mobile Quarantine Facility. Left to right are Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. The spouses, left to right, are Pat Collins, Jan Armstrong, and Jean Aldrin.

Apollo 11 Quarantine
Apollo 11 Quarantine

Homecoming


Ticker-Tape Parade
Returning from the first lunar landing mission, the Apollo 11 astronauts received a tumultuous welcome from New Yorkers who dropped a record tonnage of paper during a ticker-tape parade, a tradition which welcomed returning heroes.

Apollo 11 Ticker-Tape Parade
Apollo 11 Ticker-Tape Parade