Apollo 11 Moon landing

Fly me to the Moon

Journey to the Moon and back:
Three men, three spacecraft, and one huge rocket

NASA’s historic Apollo 11 Moon landing mission launched on July 16, 1969

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The payload was carried on a Saturn V rocket that launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

The Saturn V was a huge three-stage rocket. Each stage had its own engine and fuel, and each was jettisoned from the remaining spacecraft when fuel ran out.

Fifty years later, the Saturn V remains the tallest, most powerful rocket ever launched into Space

Saturn V statistics at liftoff:

  • Height
    363 feet (111 m)
  • Weight
    6,100,000 pounds (2,767,000 kg)
  • Thrust
    33.4 million newtons (3.4 million kg)

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The first stage of the rocket, with five engines, burned for 2 minutes, 30 seconds and took the spacecraft from the ground to an altitude of 38 miles

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At which point the first stage was discarded

The second stage, with five engines, burned for 6 minutes, adding 77 miles to the altitude

The third stage, with one engine, was used twice. First it burned for 2 minutes, 45 seconds, boosting the spacecraft to an orbital velocity of about 17,500 mph around Earth before the engine was shut down.

Two and a half hours later, the engine was reignited to propel the spacecraft into a trajectory out of the Earth’s orbit and toward its lunar destination at 25,000 mph

This vehicle that carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to the Moon and back was in fact made up of three parts


The mission’s command post and orbiting mothership

Lunar Module

Carried Armstrong and Aldrin from lunar orbit to the Moon and back again


Provided the command module with water, oxygen, and electricity and contained the engine to get the spacecraft in and out of lunar orbit

On the way to the Moon, the command and service modules separated from the rocket’s third stage, turned around, and docked with the lunar module Eagle

After three days of travel, the spacecraft entered orbit around the Moon

Armstrong and Aldrin put on their spacesuits and moved into the lunar module

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The astronauts undocked the lunar module from the command module and fired its descent-stage rocket engine

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And then, at long last, they landed on the Moon

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After landing on the Moon, the astronauts were supposed to sleep but decided they couldn’t

A few hours later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the Moon

They collected rock and soil samples, set up experiments, took photographs, and planted an American flag on the Moon’s surface

Twenty-one hours after landing, having offloaded as much weight as possible, the lunar module crew ascended from the Moon using the ascent-stage rocket

In a nail-biting exercise, the lunar module’s flight was timed to dock precisely with the command module (still in lunar orbit) so the astronauts could be reunited for their journey home

Just before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on July 24, 1969, the service module was jettisoned so the tiny triangular command module was all that was left

After jettisoning one final element (the forward heat shield), the Apollo 11 command module splashed down into the Pacific Ocean with the help of a series of parachutes

The astronauts were retrieved by Navy divers, taken aboard ship, and then flown back to Houston and kept in quarantine for 21 days

Finally, vast crowds gave the astronauts an honorary welcome home at ticker-tape parades in New York City, Houston, and Chicago