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On 16th July 1969, at 08.32 EST, the Apollo 11 mission was launched from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It represented the first attempt to land two astronauts on the surface of the Moon and for that reason attracted huge publicity all around the world. The crew of three, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, were seated in a small conical capsule on the top of the vast Saturn V three-stage launch vehicle. The Saturn V rocket stood almost 400 feet tall and weighed a staggering 3,000 tons.

Lunar boot print
Image by courtesy of NASA

The three-sections of the Apollo spacecraft, the Command Module, the Service Module and the Lunar Module, were injected into Earth orbit a few minutes after a successful launch, and the the third stage of the Saturn rocket was later fired to place the spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The journey to the vicinity of the Moon, a distance of almost a quarter of a million miles, took three days. The spacecraft then entered lunar orbit and began circling the Moon at an altitude of about 60 miles.

Having completed all the necessary checks two astronauts boarded the Lunar Module, known as Eagle, leaving Michael Collins in the Command Module to continue orbiting the Moon. The two astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, then fired the engine of the Lunar Module and began their descent to the surface. The descent was not without drama, with computer-overload alarms sounding in the Lunar Module as it neared the surface of the Moon. In the end, Commander Neil Armstrong took partial manual control of the module to traverse a large crater and land safely in the Sea of Tranquility with about 20 seconds of fuel remaining. Vast numbers of people across the world followed the landing live on radio and television. The landing took place at 15.17 EST in Mare Tranquillitatis at a position of 0° 4 '5" N latitude, 23° 42' 28" E longitude. This location was several miles beyond the intended landing site.

At 22.56 EST on July 20th, Neil Armstrong descended a short ladder to the surface of the Moon. He was the first human being to set foot on another world. Buzz Aldrin joined him on the surface a short time later. The picture opposite (by courtesy of NASA) shows an astronaut's boot print in the fine lunar soil. The two men then explored the immediate area for about two-and-a-half hours.They carried various cameras including a 70mm Hasselblad electric camera, two 70mm lunar surface wide-angle cameras, one Hasselblad EL data camera, two 16-mm Maurer data acquisition cameras, one 35mm surface close-up stereoscopic camera and of course a television camera. The Hasselblad 70mm 500EL data camera was mounted on a bracket on the front of an astronaut's spacesuit, leaving his hands free. He could not use a viewfinder because the bulbous face-mask of the spacesuit made this impossible. Nevertheless, hundreds of good images were obtained. The astronauts varied exposures by one stop in either direction to allow for possible exposure errors. The film used for the flight was loaded prior to launch from Earth and several test shots were also exposed.

An American flag was planted in the surface soil, and a brief conversation took place with President Nixon in the White House. About 22Kg of lunar soil and rock samples were also collected. The astronauts then climbed back aboard the Lunar Module and discarded a few items, including a Hasselblad camera, to lighten the spacecraft in preparation for ascent back to lunar orbit. The single engine was then fired and the ascent stage of the Lunar Module separated from the descent stage (and the legs on which it landed) before climbing the 60 miles back to lunar orbit and a successful rendezvous and docking with Michael Collins in the Command Module. The Lunar Module was then sent crashing into the lunar surface leaving the two remaining sections of the Apollo spacecraft in orbit. The engine of the Service Module was then fired to place the spacecraft on a trajectory back to the Earth. Shortly before entering the Earth's atmosphere, some three days later, the Command Module containing the three astronauts separated from the now-redundant Service Module. The Command Module then plunged into the upper atmosphere at a velocity of  24,545 mph.

The Apollo 11 Command Module, known as Columbia, landed using three enormous parachutes on July 24th. The landing site was in the Pacific Ocean at a position 1440 nautical miles east of Wake Island, and some 25 nautical miles from the recovery ship USS Hornet. The astronauts were lifted onto the ship by a helicopter before the Command Module itself was recovered in a similar fashion. When the film magazines exposed during the flight were recovered from the capsule, test shots exposed on Earth prior to the mission were cut off and processed first. These were compared with accurate color charts to ensure that the colours would be accurate and that no processing problems were apparent.

Picture by courtesy of NASA - more pictures here.


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