Did you know...
...that after the first moon walk, Pan-American Airlines announced that they were willing to take inquiries about future commercial flights to the Moon? They received 80,000 requests almost immediately.
...that a manned rocket can reach the moon in less time that it used to take to travel the length of England by stagecoach?
July 1994 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the epochal lunar landing of Apollo 11 in the summer of 1969. Although President John F. Kennedy had made a public commitment on 25 May 1961 to land an American on the Moon by the end of the decade, up until this time Apollo had been all promise. Now the realization was about to begin. Its success was enormously significant, coming at a time when American society was in crisis.
A unique confluence of political necessity, personal commitment and activism, scientific and technological ability, economic prosperity, and public mood made possible the 1961 decision to carry out an aggressive lunar landing program. It then fell to NASA, other organizations of the federal government, and the aerospace community to accomplish the task set out in a few short paragraphs by the president.
The first Apollo mission of public significance was the flight of Apollo 8. On 21 December 1968 it took off atop a Saturn V booster from the Kennedy Space Center. Three astronauts were aboard--Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders--for a historic mission to orbit the Moon. At first that mission had been planned as a flight to test Apollo hardware in the relatively safe confines of low Earth orbit, but senior engineer George M. Low of the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas, and Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Manager at NASA headquarters, obtained approval to make it a circumlunar flight. The advantages of this could be important, they believed, both in technical and scientific knowledge gained as well as in a public demonstration of what the U.S. could achieve.
After Apollo 8 made one and a half Earth orbits its third stage began a burn to put the spacecraft on a lunar trajectory. It orbited the Moon on 24-25 December and then fired the boosters for a return flight; it "splashed down" in the Pacific Ocean on 27 December. The public reaction to the Apollo 8 circumlunar mission was enthusiastic. It rekindled the excitement felt in the early 1960s during the first Mercury flights, and set the stage for the Apollo landing missions.
Perhaps most important, the flight was a significant accomplishment because it came at a time when American society was in crisis over Vietnam, race relations, urban problems, and a host of other difficulties. And if only for a few moments, the nation united as one to focus on this epochal event. Two Apollo Earth-orbital missions occurred before the climax of the program, but they did little more than confirm that the time had come in mid-1969 for a lunar landing.
That landing came during the flight of Apollo 11, which lifted off on 16 July 1969 and, after confirmation that the hardware was working well, began the three day trip to the Moon. Then, at 4:18 p.m. EST on 20 July 1969 the Lunar Module--with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin aboard--landed on the surface of the Moon while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo Command Module. After checkout, Armstrong set foot on the surface, telling millions who saw and heard him on Earth that it was "one small step for man--one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon followed him out and the two plodded around the landing site in the 1/6 lunar gravity and set up scientific experiments. The next day they launched back to the Apollo capsule orbiting overhead and began the return trip to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific on 24 July.
The flight of Apollo 11 met with an ecstatic reaction around the globe, as everyone shared in the success of the mission. Ticker tape parades, speaking engagements, public relations events, and a world tour by the astronauts served to create good will both in the U.S. and abroad.
Five more landing missions followed at approximately six month intervals through December 1972, each of them increasing the time spent on the Moon. Three of the latter Apollo missions used a lunar rover vehicle to travel in the vicinity of the landing site, but none of them equaled the excitement of Apollo 11.
Apollo: Current Locations - locations of command and lunar modules
Apollo Project - lots of Apollo images
Apollo to the Moon - detailed info on each mission
Giant Leap - "definitive history of humankind's greatest adventure"
Project Apollo - program overview, links
* This text was adapted from the NASA Apollo 11 Home Page.