"That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." These were the famous words of Neil Armstrong as he became the first person to set foot on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission that took him there was the journey that ended the moon race. This race began in 1957 when the Soviet Union put Sputnik, an unmanned satellite, into orbit around Earth. This scared the United States. If the Soviet Union could launch satellites, it could launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union to the United States. Reacting to this, President Kennedy challenged the United States and told the world that America would put a man on the moon before 1970.
There were two parts to this space race. The first was to orbit the moon. The Soviet Union had hoped to do this for the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian revolution, which was in 1967. The Soviet Union did not make this deadline. Apollo 8 became the first spacecraft to orbit the moon in 1968.
The second part of the race was to land on the moon. The United States won this race when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. This twelve year race was ruled by the Americans, proving that the United States wasn’t as far behind in technology as America had thought back in 1957.
The astronauts of Apollo 11 were very experienced even before they began training for their mission to the moon. Each of the astronauts had been on a Gemini mission. The purpose of these missions was to learn more about space and prepare NASA for the mission to the moon.
Each of the crew also had his own reasons for being prepared. Michael Collins, the command module pilot, had been an Air Force test pilot. He also had flown in the Gemini 10 mission, so he was familiar with space. Although he was very experienced, he would not land on the moon. He would have to stay behind to monitor the command module.
Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin was the pilot of the lunar module. Aldrin had also been a pilot in the Air Force, as well as being on the Gemini 12 mission, which tested automatic reentry, reentering the Earth’s atmosphere under the control of computers.
The first man on the moon was Neil Armstrong. He was the co-pilot of the lunar module. Neil Armstrong earned his pilot's license before he was sixteen years old, flew as a Navy pilot, and commanded the Gemini 8 mission.
In addition to these experiences, each astronaut trained for over a year for the Apollo mission. Training included flying in a specially adapted plane that demonstrated weightlessness. The plane did this by flying high into the air then taking a dive (see diagram). If you have ever been on a roller coaster, you know how it feels like you’re going to float out of your seat when you go down the first hill. The dive in the plane is very similar to the first hill of a roller coaster, but the plane has a much stronger force causing weightlessness. The force is much stronger because the plane travels much faster than the roller coaster. The astronauts flew about forty times in this plane.
They also had something set up that allowed them to be held up by ropes parallel to the ground. Then they would walk around on a wall. As they walked, they swung out away from the wall. This training was important because nobody really knew what it was like to walk on the moon, but they knew it would be very different. NASA believed when the astronauts walked on the moon, they would float upward a little then come back down. The strange set up of ropes and walls would allow them to see what it was like to walk on the moon.
"Ten, nine, ignition sequence starts." Huge flames and smoke began shooting out of the five main engines of the Saturn V rocket. "Six, five, four, three, two, one, zero, all engines running." The engines had a thrust equal to 92,000 locomotives. When the hold down clamps released, all 3,000 tons (6,000,000 pounds) of the rocket lifted up off the ground. People could hear, see, and even feel Apollo 11 taking off. The engines caused a shock wave that could be felt for miles around. Two and a half minutes later, Apollo 11 was moving 9,000 feet per second. At this speed, you could go from Los Angeles to New York in only 24 minutes! The rocket’s second stage engine boosted them to 15,000 miles per hour. It would take only 10 minutes to travel from New York to Los Angeles at this speed! The third stage of the rocket brought them into orbit around the earth. Apollo 11 had successfully left Earth's atmosphere.
Four days later, after traveling about 239,000 miles, the crew was ready to land on the moon. Aldrin and Armstrong climbed through the Eagle’s hatch. Eagle was the lunar module’s nickname. Collins hit a button, unhooking the Eagle from the command module. Collins then had to look back, inspecting the Eagle for problems. There weren’t any. The lunar module began its
descent to the moon’s surface. As they were coming down, an alarm sounded. One of the computers was overloaded with data. Mission control reassured them that the computer would reset itself. They ignored the alarm and continued going down. When they got close enough to the landing site, Armstrong could see boulders the size of cars littering the site. He quickly took control of the Eagle, trying to find a new landing site. He couldn't find one, and they were running low on fuel. Finally he saw one a few hundred yards away. He safely set them down. They had done it!
While on the Moon
The two astronauts ate their first meal while on the moon. Then they began suiting up for their moonwalk. They had been scheduled to sleep for four hours, but mission control agreed that they could skip that since they were too excited to wait. It took them two hours to put on their custom made suits. The suits were water-cooled because their body heat could build up inside the airtight suits. Also the temperature on the moon could get up to 221° F. The suit also carried a four-hour supply of oxygen. This would be needed because there is no oxygen on the moon. The suits also included communications equipment so Armstrong and Aldrin could talk to each other along with Mission Control.
Armstrong began to climb down the ladder. Between the little gravity and the bulky space suit, this was pretty tricky. It was after he had his first foot planted that he said, "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The two astronauts began setting up many experiments. They set up a laser ranging retro-reflector that would be used to measure the distance between Earth and the moon. A laserbeam could be sent from Earth to the moon. This laserbeam would get reflected off the retro-reflector and sent back to Earth. By measuring the time the laser took to go from Earth to the moon and back, scientists could measure the exact distance to the moon.
They also put up a seismic detector. This measures shock vibrations on the moon. The scientists on Earth knew when Buzz Aldrin or Neal Armstrong were walking because the detector was so sensitive. This seismic detector would help to monitor the moon by being able to feel meteoroids hit the moon. It would also monitor seismic activity on the moon. An example of seismic activity on Earth would be earthquakes.
Probably the most important thing they did was collect many rocks and soil samples for scientists to study. This was important because scientists thought rock samples might help to understand the origin of the moon. This knowledge might even help find out how the Earth was formed. To find this out, the scientists would have to compare the different minerals in rocks from the moon and in rocks from Earth. Scientists actually did this to test a theory of how the moon was formed. The theory was that a planet about the size of Mars collided with Earth, and the debris from the collision collected to form the moon. The tests supported this theory. They showed that some of the minerals in moon rocks and Earth rocks were similar. This might prove that some of the minerals from Earth collected to help form the moon after the collision.
The top part of the Eagle launched, leaving the unneeded landing legs behind on the moon’s surface. Six hours later, they docked back with the command module. They unloaded all of the collected rocks and soil samples.
Three days later, Apollo 11 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in a huge fireball. This fireball was formed because of the friction between the capsule and Earth’s atmosphere. After they had reentered, huge red and white parachutes pulled out, setting them down softly in the ocean. From there they were brought by helicopter to the U.S.S. Hornet. Scientists thought they might have brought back germs, so they had to stay in a van that looked like a camper for three days. After that, they stayed in an air tight room where they were examined by scientists. The scientists never found anything. The astronauts were heroes, and for the next two months they rode in parades.
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Jim Dumoulin. Project Gemini. <http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/history/gemini/gemini.html> Last Visited: January 7, 2002.
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Terrie Bevill. Lunar Samples. <http://www-curator/lunar/samples.htm> Last Visited: January 24, 2002.
Space in the Spotlight Novi Meadows Elementary 2002
All pictures courtesy of NASA unless otherwise noted