16. July 2019
16 July 1969 – launch of the Moon landing project

50th an­niver­sary of Apol­lo 11 – "We came in peace for all mankind"

Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, stepped onto the surface of the Moon.
21 Ju­ly 1969 – hu­mans on the Moon
Image 1/14, Credit: NASA

21 July 1969 – humans on the Moon

In Eu­rope, it was the mid­dle of the night be­tween Sun­day, 20 Ju­ly 1969 and Mon­day, 21 Ju­ly, when, at 02:56 UTC, Neil Arm­strong, com­man­der of the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion, stepped on­to the sur­face of the Moon. Up to a bil­lion peo­ple all around the world watched his ex­it from the Lu­nar Mod­ule, ‘Ea­gle’, on tele­vi­sion. In the USA, it was tele­vi­sion prime time on Sun­day evening, 20 Ju­ly. Twen­ty min­utes lat­er, as­tro­naut Ed­win ‘Buzz’ Aldrin al­so stepped on­to the lu­nar sur­face. The im­age shows the first two peo­ple on the Moon – Aldrin, stand­ing in front of Arm­strong, and Arm­strong, re­flect­ing in Aldrin’s vi­sor at the mo­ment the pho­to­graph was tak­en.
Launch of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 mission lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida.
16 Ju­ly 1969 – launch of the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion
Image 2/14, Credit: NASA

16 July 1969 – launch of the Apollo 11 mission

On 16 Ju­ly 1969 at 09:32 lo­cal time (13:32 UTC), the Sat­urn V rock­et car­ry­ing the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion lift­ed off from Launch Com­plex 39A at Kennedy Space Cen­ter on the east coast of Flori­da. Five en­gines (hence the name Sat­urn V) each pro­duced a thrust of 7500 kilo­new­tons by burn­ing 2500 kilo­grams of pro­pel­lant per sec­ond. On­ly af­ter 12 sec­onds did the rock­et clear the launch tow­er. The first two stages and the first burn of the third stage brought the three Apol­lo 11 as­tro­nauts in­to Earth or­bit. Sub­se­quent­ly, the third stage ac­cel­er­at­ed their space­craft in­to a trans­fer or­bit to the Moon, which it reached af­ter three days.
The three astronauts, Neil Armstrong (left), Michael Collins (centre) and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.
Three as­tro­nauts make his­to­ry
Image 3/14, Credit: NASA

Three astronauts make history

When the three as­tro­nauts, Neil Arm­strong (left), Michael Collins (cen­tre) and Ed­win ‘Buzz’ Aldrin – all born in 1930 – were se­lect­ed for the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion in Jan­uary 1969, it was not yet clear that the mis­sion planned for Ju­ly of that year would land on the Moon. In the first half of the year, Apol­lo 9 was used to test the han­dling of the new­ly com­plet­ed Lu­nar Mod­ule in Earth or­bit. This was be­fore Apol­lo 10 suc­ceed­ed in a dress re­hearsal in May – but not with­out a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion af­ter the de­scent of the lu­nar mod­ule to 15 kilo­me­tres above the lu­nar sur­face, when the Lu­nar Mod­ule un­ex­pect­ed­ly rolled and turned over sev­er­al times. Af­ter the safe re­turn of Apol­lo 10, the way was clear for the first Moon land­ing in Ju­ly 1969.
Apollo 11 mission emblem – an eagle as a dove of peace
Apol­lo 11 mis­sion em­blem – an ea­gle as a dove of peace
Image 4/14, Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 mission emblem – an eagle as a dove of peace

Michael Collins, the Com­mand and Ser­vice Mod­ule pi­lot, de­signed the mis­sion em­blem for Apol­lo 11. It is the on­ly mis­sion em­blem on which the names of the as­tro­nauts are not writ­ten at the edge, as was com­mon prac­tice on the Mer­cury and Gem­i­ni flights and the first three Apol­lo flights, as well as on sub­se­quent mis­sions. Collins want­ed to show that the crew was fly­ing to the Moon on be­half of all the 400,000 peo­ple who were in­volved in the con­struc­tion of the launch­er and the three space­craft mod­ules, the prepa­ra­tions and the plan­ning. The bald ea­gle, the heraldic crea­ture of the USA, holds an olive branch in its talons, which ex­press­es the peace­ful char­ac­ter of the mis­sion. It has since been no­ticed that the Earth above the lu­nar hori­zon is il­lu­mi­nat­ed by the Sun from the wrong di­rec­tion dur­ing Apol­lo 11’s flight along the lu­nar equa­tor. The hemi­sphere in shad­ow should be on the un­der­side and not to the left.
First footprints of humans on the Moon
First foot­prints of hu­mans on the Moon
Image 5/14, Credit: NASA

First footprints of humans on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin’s pho­to­graph of his foot­print in the lu­nar dust is an icon of the 20th cen­tu­ry. It was not tak­en to doc­u­ment the first foot­prints of the ‘Moon Boots’, but be­cause Aldrin ob­served that the foot­prints had sharp edges and that the dust did not slip. Moon dust – re­ferred to as re­golith by ge­ol­o­gists – does not con­sist of round­ed gran­ules, as is usu­al­ly the case on Earth, but of mi­cro­scop­i­cal­ly small, jagged and eas­i­ly in­ter­locked par­ti­cles that have strong co­he­sion. The un­usu­al struc­ture of the lu­nar dust re­sults from mi­crom­e­te­orites that melt the re­golith on im­pact, af­ter which it so­lid­i­fies again im­me­di­ate­ly.
A ladder with the inscription: “Here men from planet Earth first set foot on the Moon, July 1969, A. D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
“We came in peace for all mankind”
Image 6/14, Credit: NASA

“We came in peace for all mankind”

When Neil Arm­strong de­scend­ed the lad­der of the ‘Ea­gle’ Lu­nar Mod­ule, he un­veiled a plaque on the land­ing leg to which the lad­der was at­tached, with the in­scrip­tion: “Here men from plan­et Earth first set foot on the Moon, Ju­ly 1969, A. D. We came in peace for all mankind.” The en­graved sig­na­tures are those of the three Apol­lo 11 as­tro­nauts (Neil A. Arm­strong, Michael Collins, Ed­win E. Aldrin) and the then Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, Richard Nixon. The pas­sage ‘in peace for all mankind’ was bor­rowed from a state­ment by the US Congress made on the foun­da­tion of NASA in 1958: “… it is the pol­i­cy of the Unit­ed States that ac­tiv­i­ties in space should be de­vot­ed to peace­ful pur­pos­es for the ben­e­fit of all mankind.”
 Charles Duke (left) has just given the order to land, the ‘go for landing’.
‘Go for land­ing!’ – ten­sion in Mis­sion Con­trol
Image 7/14, Credit: NASA

‘Go for landing!’ – tension in Mission Control

20 Ju­ly 1969. Charles Duke (left) has just giv­en the or­der to land, the ‘go for land­ing’. Eleven min­utes lat­er, at 14:17 (Hous­ton lo­cal time), the Lu­nar Mod­ule ‘Ea­gle’ with Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin land­ed on the Moon. Duke’s re­ac­tion to the land­ing of Apol­lo 11 re­port­ed by Neil Arm­strong (“The Ea­gle has land­ed.”) is fre­quent­ly re­peat­ed: “Roger, Tran­quil­li­ty. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breath­ing again. Thanks a lot.” To the left of Duke are the as­tro­nauts Jim Lovell, com­man­der of the Apol­lo 13 mis­sion that flew in April 1970, and Fred Haise, Apol­lo 13 Lu­nar Mod­ule pi­lot.
Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin salutes the Star-Spangled Banner
Ed­win ‘Buzz’ Aldrin salutes the Star-Span­gled Ban­ner
Image 8/14, Credit: NASA

Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin salutes the Star-Spangled Banner

The Apol­lo Pro­gram, aimed at land­ing hu­mans on the Moon, was high­ly po­lit­i­cal­ly mo­ti­vat­ed. On­ly eight years be­fore the first Moon land­ing, the USA had fall­en be­hind the So­vi­et Union in the field of space­flight. With the idea for­mu­lat­ed by Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy in 1961, that the USA: “… should com­mit it­self to achiev­ing the goal, be­fore this decade is out, of land­ing a man on the Moon and re­turn­ing him safe­ly to the Earth …” they not on­ly want­ed to over­take the USSR, but al­so demon­strate the su­pe­ri­or­i­ty of the free, west­ern world over the closed, dic­ta­to­ri­al USSR. Enor­mous re­sources were made avail­able and ev­ery ef­fort was made. For NASA and its Apol­lo as­tro­nauts – who with one ex­cep­tion were pi­lots re­cruit­ed from Air Force or Navy – plant­ing the Amer­i­can flag next to the Lu­nar Mod­ule was far more than a sym­bol­ic act.
Panoramic view of the Apollo 11 landing site from Little West Crater
Panoram­ic view of the Apol­lo 11 land­ing site from Lit­tle West Crater
Image 9/14, Credit: NASA

Panoramic view of the Apollo 11 landing site from Little West Crater

On 21 Ju­ly 1969 (CET) the first two hu­mans to walk on the Moon spent ap­prox­i­mate­ly two-and-a-half hours on the lu­nar sur­face. The land­ing site in the west of the Mare Tran­quil­li­tatis – a vol­canic plain with­out many ob­sta­cles – was cho­sen for rea­sons of safe­ty and light­ing con­di­tions. The Apol­lo 11 as­tro­nauts re­turned 22.5 kilo­grams of rock sam­ples and lu­nar dust to Earth for the sci­en­tists. Their in­ves­ti­ga­tion was the pre­lude to ex­ten­sive sci­en­tif­ic work, last­ing many years and re­ward­ed with sig­nif­i­cant re­sults, which cul­mi­nat­ed in a com­plete­ly new un­der­stand­ing of the pro­cess­es in the ear­ly So­lar Sys­tem dur­ing and af­ter the for­ma­tion of Earth-like bod­ies. In the fore­ground is Lit­tle West Crater. Neil Arm­strong took some pho­tographs here, about 60 me­tres from the Lu­nar Mod­ule, which were as­sem­bled in­to a mo­sa­ic. The crater should not be con­fused with the West Crater (550 me­tres fur­ther east), over the edge of which Neil Arm­strong flew the Lu­nar Mod­ule un­der man­u­al con­trol to avoid land­ing in the field of boul­ders that sur­rounds the crater.
The Apollo 11 landing site from lunar orbit
The Apol­lo 11 land­ing site from lu­nar or­bit
Image 10/14, Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Apollo 11 landing site from lunar orbit

While Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin were on the Moon, Michael Collins trav­elled around Earth’s nat­u­ral satel­lite 18 times in an equa­to­ri­al or­bit. Ev­ery time he flew over the west­ern Mare Tran­quil­li­tatis, he tried to ob­serve the Ea­gle on the lu­nar sur­face from his or­bit, which was at an al­ti­tude of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 100 kilo­me­tres, but he did not see it. Much lat­er, the ex­treme­ly high-res­o­lu­tion cam­era of the Lu­nar Re­con­nais­sance Or­biter, which has been or­bit­ing the Moon since 2009, suc­ceed­ed in ac­quir­ing im­ages of all six Apol­lo land­ing sites as well as the land­ing sites of the So­vi­et robot­ic Moon mis­sions. To the right of the cen­tre of the im­age is the de­scent stage of the Lu­nar Mod­ule, Neil Arm­strong's foot­prints to the promi­nent Lit­tle West Crater, and south of the Lu­nar Mod­ule the seis­mome­ter ex­per­i­ment that was left be­hind.
The first scientific experiments
The first sci­en­tif­ic ex­per­i­ments
Image 11/14, Credit: NASA

The first scientific experiments

The Apol­lo Pro­gram was an enor­mous­ly fruit­ful project for plan­e­tary re­search. Robot­ic space­craft from the Ranger, Lu­nar Or­biter and Sur­vey­or se­ries were sent to the Moon in prepa­ra­tion for safe land­ings, and trans­mit­ted thou­sands of im­ages to Earth. What pre­vi­ous­ly could on­ly be ob­served with tele­scopes at a res­o­lu­tion no bet­ter than one or two kilo­me­tres could now be seen in im­ages with a res­o­lu­tion more than 10 times high­er in some cas­es. On the Moon, all six Apol­lo mis­sions had ex­ten­sive ex­per­i­men­tal pack­ages with them, which left hard­ly any­thing to be de­sired by the geo­sci­en­tists, as­tronomers and physi­cists in­volved. Dur­ing the first Moon land­ing, a seis­mome­ter was in­stalled that pas­sive­ly record­ed vi­bra­tions of the lu­nar sur­face even af­ter the mis­sion – in­clud­ing the im­pact of the Lu­nar Mod­ule af­ter its sep­a­ra­tion and de­scent to the sur­face.
The Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ returns to ‘Columbia’
The Lu­nar Mod­ule ‘Ea­gle’ re­turns to ‘Columbia’
Image 12/14, Credit: NASA

The Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ returns to ‘Columbia’

The re­turn of the Ea­gle to Columbia did not sig­ni­fy the end of the mis­sion. Oth­er mis­sion-crit­i­cal mile­stones were yet to come – dock­ing with the Com­mand and Ser­vice Mod­ule and ig­nit­ing the en­gine to re­turn to Earth from lu­nar or­bit on the cor­rect tra­jec­to­ry. Af­ter an­oth­er three days, more crit­i­cal tasks fol­lowed – re-en­ter­ing Earth’s at­mo­sphere at the cor­rect an­gle to dis­si­pate all the ki­net­ic en­er­gy trans­ferred to the sys­tem by the launch­er and fi­nal­ly de­scend­ing safe­ly on parachutes to splash down in the ocean. The im­age shows the ‘Ea­gle’ in front of the lu­nar hori­zon with the dark out­line of Mare Smythii and the ‘half Earth’ in the back­ground.
The Apollo 11 Command Module with the three astronauts on board splashed down in the western Pacific Ocean.
The end of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ex­pe­di­tion
Image 13/14, Credit: NASA

The end of a revolutionary expedition

On 24 Ju­ly 1969 at 16:50 UTC – in the ear­ly hours of the morn­ing lo­cal time – the Apol­lo 11 Com­mand Mod­ule with the three as­tro­nauts on board splashed down in the west­ern Pa­cif­ic Ocean. Sev­er­al he­li­copters had tak­en off from the air­craft car­ri­er USS Hor­net and navy divers im­me­di­ate­ly jumped from the he­li­copters in­to the ocean. They ‘board­ed’ the cap­sule float­ing in the wa­ter, opened the hatch and helped the three some­what ex­haust­ed but hap­py as­tro­nauts in­to in­flat­able boats. From there they were lift­ed in­to the he­li­copters and brought to the Hor­net, which was 24 kilo­me­tres away. The mis­sion last­ed eight days.
Talking with the US President – from behind glass
Talk­ing with the US Pres­i­dent – from be­hind glass
Image 14/14, Credit: NASA

Talking with the US President – from behind glass

Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon trav­elled to the USS Hor­net air­craft car­ri­er be­fore the re­turn of the three Moon as­tro­nauts, in or­der to wel­come the na­tion’s new heroes. How­ev­er, the con­ver­sa­tion had to take place through an in­ter­com sys­tem, as Neil Arm­strong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (from left to right) were quar­an­tined for two weeks. Be­fore the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion, it was not clear whether the Moon, on whose sur­face sci­en­tists could not imag­ine live at all, might be home to mi­croor­gan­isms or virus­es that could per­sist on Earth or even spread and cause great harm. For the as­tro­nauts, even more up­set­ting than the in­di­rect con­tact with their pres­i­dent was the fact that it was not un­til 10 Au­gust 1969 that they were fi­nal­ly al­lowed to greet their fam­i­lies from the quar­an­tine fa­cil­i­ty.
  • A look back at the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission.
  • The success of the mission meant that the USA had achieved the seemingly impossible – only eight years after John F Kennedy’s declaration, humans landed on the Moon and returned safely to Earth.
  • The three astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins – carried out the mission with the highest level of professionalism, making history in the process.
  • Focus: Crewed spaceflight, planetary research

The Saturn V rocket lifted off at an almost frighteningly slow speed at 09:32 local time (13:32 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, on the eastern coast of Florida. Every second, 13 tonnes of fuel were pumped into the five engines and burned; each of them produced 7500 kilonewtons of thrust. Twelve seconds later, the launcher cleared the launch tower. At 111 metres tall and weighing almost 3000 tonnes at launch, it was the most powerful rocket ever to have been built. Its lift-off was accompanied by a tremendous rumbling noise, the like of which had never been heard before from any human-made machine. Around one million people watched the launch from the local area. Atop the three-stage launcher was the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, with the astronauts Neil Alden Armstrong, Edwin Eugene Aldrin and Michael Collins. They were scheduled to reach the Moon three days later. On the night of 20–21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the surface of the Moon. A thousand-year-old dream had come true!

Thousands of tonnes of fuel

The first stage burned for two-and-a-half minutes, carrying the launcher up to an altitude of 61 kilometres. From there, it sped towards space at a speed of 8000 kilometres per hour. Two thousand tonnes of fuel had now been burned, the stage separated and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, 560 kilometres west of the launch site. The second stage burned for another six minutes, before it too separated and fell into the sea, this time 4000 kilometres from Florida. The first burn of the third stage placed the Command Module, Service Module and Lunar Module in Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 185 kilometres. There, the spacecraft orbited the planet for three hours at a speed of seven kilometres per second (25,000 kilometres per hour). Meanwhile, control of the spacecraft was transferred from Kennedy Space Center to Ground Control in Houston, Texas, for the remainder of the mission.

From Earth to the Moon in three days

At 16:22 UTC (17:22 CET), after one-and-a-half orbits of Earth, the spacecraft began its journey to the Moon. The Saturn IVB upper stage accelerated it to the required escape velocity of 11.2 kilometres per second. The most difficult manoeuvre on the journey to Earth’s satellite took place half an hour after injection into lunar transfer orbit. This was the separation of the Command and Service Module (CSM) from the third stage, followed by a 180-degree turn and the docking of the tip of the Command Module with the Lunar Module, so that it could be extracted from the third stage. After this, the now-connected components were again rotated by 180 degrees. Michael Collins, who was in charge of the manoeuvre, completed it without problems. The astronauts now had almost 400,000 kilometres left to travel.

The expended upper stage flew on its own trajectory past the Moon; it is still in orbit around the Sun. Telescopes on Earth have been able to use the reflection curves to detect the titanium oxide in the white paint and thus observe it on several occasions.

Time was short – NASA speeds up the pace and the risk

How was the Apollo 11 crew selected? Who decided which astronauts would be the first to fly to the Moon? And who determined who would be the first person to set foot on Earth's satellite? In one sense, the choice of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins for the Apollo 11 mission was down to a lucky coincidence. Armstrong and Aldrin were the reserve crew for the Apollo 8 mission, which completed the very first journey to the Moon with a human crew at Christmas in 1968 and took the famous photograph of Earth appearing over the Moon's horizon – Earthrise.

The third substitute astronaut was originally Fred Haise, but Armstrong successfully petitioned Deke Slayton, the Assistant Director of Flight Crew Operations at NASA, for Michael Collins to take Haise's place. Collins had already proven his skills on Gemini 10. On 10 January 1969, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were presented to the public as the crew of Apollo 11. At this point, however, the Lunar Module had not even been tested, so it was by no means certain that Apollo 11 would land humans on the Moon.

But time was running out. NASA feared that the Soviet Union would soon be able to send the first cosmonauts to the Moon. The state of play was unclear following the surprise death of the Russian rocket engineer Sergei Korolev on 14 January 1966. In addition, there was President John F Kennedy's announcement on 25 May 1961, which committed the US to the goal of "… before this decade is out, landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." So, NASA was in a hurry – which increased the risk. The Apollo 6 and 7 missions, which took place in 1968, were unmanned test flights in Earth orbit. Apollo 8 in December 1968 marked the first time that the Saturn V rocket had been used, flying directly to the Moon with astronauts on board. In early 1969, NASA tested the completed Lunar Module in Earth orbit with Apollo 9. Apollo 10 in May 1969 was a dress rehearsal, with the Lunar Module descending to approximately 15 kilometres above the surface of the Moon. After all of this had gone smoothly, NASA was ready to attempt a landing with Apollo 11.

Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins – three exceptional people

Neil Armstrong was selected as the mission commander. He had also held this position on the Gemini mission in March 1966, when two spacecraft were docked together in space for the first time. That mission had almost ended in disaster, as the Gemini capsule began to tumble, but Armstrong brought the situation under control. He was seen as modest, almost introverted, but also extremely professional, exceptionally skilled, quick-thinking and a good team member. These were all qualities that NASA believed made him ideally suited to the command of Apollo 11. It was also clear that he, the commander and also a civilian, should be the first to set foot on the Moon. Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, the Lunar Module pilot, was known as more of a hothead – ambitious, an enthusiastic astronaut and no less capable than Armstrong. Other astronauts nicknamed him 'Dr Rendezvous'. While studying for a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, he wrote his thesis on the docking manoeuvre between two spacecraft, which had been carried out for the first time in the mid-1960s. Finally, Michael Collins, born in Rome, had performed a spacewalk as part of Gemini 10, and was considered to have a very even temperament. He also had an artistic streak – he designed the mission badge for Apollo 11, with an eagle landing on the Moon and holding an olive branch in its talons – a sign of peaceful intentions. All three were the same age – born in 1930 – and had gained experience as pilots in wartime and as former fighter jet test pilots in the US Air Force or Navy.

For three days, the Apollo mission flew without incident towards the Moon, whose gravitational field captured the capsule as planned. It was on a 'free-return trajectory'. This meant that after reaching the Moon, its gravity would allow the Command and Service Module to return to Earth, even in the event that its engine failed to fire. But everything went according to plan: At 17:21 CET on 19 July, the mission entered lunar orbit. Just 20 hours later, now on 20 July, Armstrong and Aldrin crawled from the 'Columbia' Command Module into the 'Eagle' Lunar Module and undocked from the Command and Service Module at 18:44. After further system tests and visual checks by Michael Collins – who watched the 'Eagle' rotating from the windows of the 'Columbia' – Neil Armstrong initiated the landing process with the words "The eagle has wings!"

Computer errors, boulders and manual control

The following quarter of an hour made space history. Armstrong and Aldrin – both standing and looking at the Moon out of the small triangular windows – soon realised, as they approached the surface while travelling from east to west, towards the volcanic plain of Mare Tranquillitatis, that they had passed the landmarks explored by for Apollo 10 several seconds too early. They were going to land several kilometres too far to the west. Five minutes after the engines had been ignited, while they were still 1800 metres above the Moon, the low-power yet robust on-board computer registered the famous 1201 and 1202 alarms, which did not strike Armstrong as particularly worrying. Mission control quickly issued a recommendation to ignore these alarms, which indicated the computer could no longer process the incoming data quickly enough.

Neil Armstrong took manual control of the Lunar Module. He saw a funnel-shaped crater with steep inner walls and metre-sized boulders around its edge at the intended landing site. Immediately, he realised that this place would be too dangerous for a landing and steered the Lunar Module over it. At the same time, he received the announcement via the Capsule Communicator (CapCom), astronaut Charles Duke, in Houston: "60 seconds!" The tank of the Lunar Module descent stage only had enough fuel for one more minute. Half a minute later: "30 seconds!" The mission was on the verge of being aborted. The Lunar Module was only three metres above the surface, and it was not certain that it would have been possible to abort without crashing onto the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong kept his cool and landed with enough fuel for only another 20 seconds. Buzz Aldrin called out “Contact light!” to Houston. Three seconds later the two astronauts shut down the engine, which had been whipping up dust.

The Eagle has landed, and Houston takes a deep breath

Twenty endless seconds later, the control centre was immensely relieved to receive Neil Armstrong's message: "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed." CapCom Duke replied, "Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot." It was Sunday, 20 July 1969 at 20:17 UTC (21:17 CET and mid-afternoon in the USA). Humans had landed on the Moon.

Shortly after midnight, German time – 21 July had already begun there, while the Moon landings took place in the evening of 20 July, US time, this being the best time for broadcasts – the astronauts in the Eagle began preparing the exit to the Moon. The hatch was opened at 03:38 CET. Neil Armstrong mounted the ladder at 03:51, climbed down it and, at 03:56:20 CET on 21 July 1969 stepped on the Moon and uttered the famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Buzz Aldrin followed him 20 minutes later. For just over two hours, the first two men on the Moon explored the vast wasteland, collected 21.5 kilograms of moon rocks and samples of lunar dust, carried out the experiments that they had brought with them, and planted a United States flag. US President Richard Nixon congratulated them via a telephone connection from the White House in Washington D. C., transmitted via Houston.

Meanwhile, Michael Collins orbited the Moon 18 times, awaiting the return of his fellow astronauts. On 21 July at 18:54 CET, the upper part of the Lunar Module began its journey back to the Command and Service Module in lunar orbit. It docked with the CSM and then separated again after Armstrong and Aldrin had transferred to the Command Module. The Lunar Module crashed onto the Moon. Three days later, the astronauts splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean and were picked up by helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. As it was necessary to make sure that the astronauts had not brought any lunar microbes back to Earth, they had to undergo two weeks of quarantine.

The experiments and the descent stage of the Lunar Module remained on the Moon. A plaque on the landing leg beneath the exit ladder was unveiled by the two astronauts. It reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A. D. "We came in peace for all mankind."

Further information about the anniversary of the first Moon landing can be found on DLR's dedicated website.

  • Falk Dambowsky
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
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  • Ulrich Köhler
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin
  • Melanie-Konstanze Wiese
    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Berlin, Neustre­litz, Dres­den, Je­na and Cot­tbus/Zit­tau
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
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