US space project to land a person on the Moon, achieved on 20 July 1969, when Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot there. He was accompanied on the Moon's surface by Buzz Aldrin; Michael Collins remained in the orbiting command module.
The programme was announced in 1961 by US president John F Kennedy. The world's most powerful rocket, Saturn V (see Saturn rocket), was built to launch the Apollo spacecraft, which carried three astronauts. When the spacecraft was in orbit around the Moon, two astronauts would descend to the surface in the lunar module to take samples of rock and soil and set up experiments that would send data back to Earth. After four preparatory flights, Apollo 11 made the first lunar landing. Five more crewed landings followed, the last in 1972. The total cost of the programme was over US$24 billion.
The Apollo-Saturn rocket complex stood 111 m/364 ft tall. Saturn's first stage separated and second stage fired at 72 km/45 mi; the third stage ignited at 177 km/110 mi for extra power to put Apollo into Earth orbit at 28,000 kph/17,400 mph, and later fired to send Apollo towards the Moon.
During a preliminary check on the ground the three crew were killed by a fire on 27 January 1967. After this, NASA conducted five uncrewed test flights.
The first successful Apollo mission to carry a crew, Apollo 7 was a test flight sent into orbit around the Earth on 11 October 1968.
Launched on 21 December 1968, this was the first mission to take a crew around the Moon.
Launched on 3 March 1969, this mission tested the lunar module in orbit around the Earth.
Launched on 18 May 1969, this mission successfully tested the lunar module 14.5 km/9 mi above the surface of the Moon.
After a launch on 16 July 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the lunar module (named Eagle) in an area called the Sea of Tranquillity on the Moon's surface on 20 July 1969. Armstrong had to land manually because the automatic navigation system was heading for a field of boulders. On landing, Armstrong announced, ‘Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.’ The module remained on the Moon for 22 hours, during which time the astronauts collected rocks, set up experiments, and mounted a US flag. Apart from a slight wobble when rejoining the command module, the return flight went without a hitch. After splashdown, the astronauts were quarantined as a precaution against unknown illnesses from the Moon.
Launched on 14 November 1969, this mission achieved another successful Moon landing, in spite of twice being struck by lightning during launch.
Intended to be the third Moon landing, Apollo 13 was launched on 11 April 1970 with the crew of John Swigert, Fred Haise, and James Lovell. On the third day of the mission Swigert reported to Houston, ‘We've had a problem here.’ An electrical fault had caused an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks in the service module, cutting off supplies of power and oxygen to the command module. The planned landing was abandoned and the rocket was sent round the Moon before heading back to Earth. The crew used the lunar module Aquarius as a ‘lifeboat’, though they had to endure near-freezing temperatures to save power, making sleep almost impossible. Attempting re-entry in the crippled ship almost led to disaster but the crew splashed down safely on 17 April.
Launched on 31 January 1971, this mission reached the Moon on 5 February and returned to Earth on 8 February with samples of lunar rock.
Launched on 26 July 1971, this mission used the first surface vehicle on the Moon, the lunar roving vehicle.
Launched on 16 April 1972, this mission gathered lunar soil and rock during 71 hours 2 minutes on the Moon.
Launched on 7 December 1972, this was the last of the Apollo Moon landings. Detailed geological studies were carried out during a record 74 hours on the Moon, and large amounts of rock and soil were brought back.
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