Apollo 11

16 – 25 July 1969

by Hamish Lindsay


Please note that we hope to have a vastly updated version of Hamish’s essay
will be online within a few weeks – please check back. (25 Oct 2013)

Apollo 11 crest


NCG 725

This description of the Apollo 11 Mission, based on the story in my book, is centred around a Honeysuckle Creek timeline (AEST), not the usual US Central (Spacecraft) Time.

With a number of options for the crew,
and it being such a monumental mission, Deke Slayton decided to stick to the normal routine of rotating the back up crews, which put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Fred Haise on the Apollo 11 mission; but there was a change. Michael Collins was back on flight status after surgery for a bone spur in his neck. He was anxious for a berth, which reminded Slayton he had originally promised him a lunar landing flight. As Haise hadn’t figured in the original plans, Collins joined the crew as the Command Module pilot. This fitted in quite well as Aldrin had already trained on the Lunar Module before the Apollo 8 – 9 crew-swap, so he moved across to become the Lunar Module pilot.

So the Apollo 11 crew became Neil Armstrong, Commander, Michael Collins, Command Module (CM) pilot, and Buzz Aldrin the Lunar Module (LM) pilot. The back up crew was Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Fred Haise.

Neil Buzz Mike
Neil Armstrong Commander
Edwin Aldrin
Lunar Module Pilot
Michael Collins
Command Module Pilot

Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, had watched Apollo 10 very closely, and were very relieved when it was declared a success as it meant that their Apollo 11 mission would be the first attempt to land. Compared to Alan Shepard’s 150 hours of simulations for his first Mercury flight, they had each spent over 400 hours in simulators wrestling with a continuous stream of missions, usually peppered with emergencies, equipment malfunctions, and potential catastrophes to test their knowledge, skill, and coolness to the limits. By the time they were ready for going to the moon, the astronauts knew every twist and turn of the normal and emergency operational procedures, every capricious component of the spacecraft’s 26 subsystems.

NASA’s Public Relations top honcho, Julian Scheer, suggested the name Columbia for the Command Module, remembering Jules Verne had picked Columbiad. Columbia is also a symbol of the United States. Jim Lovell proposed the LM should be called the Eagle.

The question of who stepped out on the Moon first began a heated debate among certain people. In Gemini the pilot always jumped out to do the EVAs and before much thought had gone into it the LM pilot was jotted down as the first to step out. But when they had a look at this again it was more logical for the Commander to be first out. Apart from Armstrong being senior to Aldrin as he joined NASA first, it was physically more awkward for the pilot to manoeuvre around the open hatch, so by April the Commander was set down to be first out.

At this point there was no provision to transmit a television picture direct from Honeysuckle to the outside world, and it was decided to install a television link from Honeysuckle Creek to Canberra. Trevor Gray was a PMG (now Telstra) technician on the installation team:

“We worked hard night and day to get this link in place. First a temporary tower was put up beside the road into Honeysuckle, and dish antennas mounted on top. Equipment was then connected to them, most of it in the basement of the station building. The link went from Honeysuckle to Williamsdale, then back to Red Hill in Canberra (the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain did not exist then).

microwave links

The temporary tower at Honeysuckle to relay the TV is seen at right. Photo: Hamish Lindsay. More details here.

We had mixed-up brand dish antennas everything was grabbed from everywhere. We were told there was no money for capital works we couldn’t buy anything, but there was plenty of money for operations. There was some Collins gear that NASA had, and we had to match their gear to our gear so someone showed us a lathe out the back of Honeysuckle and having had a few hours of experience on lathes before we made these joints up and bolted them together.

For the actual moon landing the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) put in another link in beside ours, so we had two links plus a standby.

microwave links

Mike Dinn remembers: “Two dishes were for Parkes (via Sydney) incoming – prime and backup. The other pair for outgoing TV, prime and backup.”

Screenshot from ABC footage taken on the morning of the Moonwalk. Used with permission.

These links were difficult to maintain – it was winter time and very cold. There was a high voltage in these joints and moisture got in them and a few of them blew up, naturally some in the middle of the night. We ended up sealing them up with epoxy resin. Normally these links were designed to only be up for a hour or so, say during a football match, they weren’t meant to stay there for long. By the time of the first moon landing we had it settled down enough to last through the mission. It meant that not many of us got much sleep.”

For Apollo 11, Honeysuckle Creek had shift change times from 1900 to 0730, and I ended up on night shift in my usual USB position of Tracking 1, responsible for the APP (equipment to computer control the antenna), TDP (equipment formatting tracking data from the antenna for recording and transmitting in real time to Goddard), Ranging, Time Standard, and System Monitor chart recorders, as well as Supervisor of the Technical Support Section, during missions responsible for the shipment of all the mission data, always expertly handled by the clerk, Trevor Conyard.

Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong said before the mission,

“We had a great deal of confidence. We had confidence in our hardware; the Saturn rocket, the Command and Lunar Modules. All flight segments had been flown on the earlier Apollo flights with the exception of the descent and ascent from the moon’s surface, and of course, the exploration work on the surface. As we ascended the elevator to the top of the Saturn we knew hundreds of thousands of Americans had given their best effort for us.

Now it was time for us to give our best.”



LAUNCH Wednesday 16 July 1969
Launch time : 2332 AEST (0932 USEDT)  

on the way to the pad
The crew head for the launch pad.

white room

In the White Room at the top of the Stack
the Apollo crew at the hatch of the Command Module.
July 3rd, 1969 during the countdown demonstration test.

Michael Collins looking down on the back left, Neil Armstrong talking to Guenter Wendt, the Pad Leader, behind him. In the left foreground Buzz Aldrin in earnest discussion with a pad technician.

Scan courtesy Ed Hengeveld.

At Honeysuckle Creek we were approaching midnight and finishing our SRT (Site Readiness Test) and preparing for Interface when at T-8.9 seconds Apollo 11’s five F1 engines burst into life, spewing fire and smoke down the huge flame deflector below. 127,300 litres of cold water per minute flooded out over the walls, mixed with the searing flames to generate clouds of steam. Sheets of ice, formed on the rocket’s skin from the super cold fuel within, flaked off in an avalanche of white. Thundering shock waves spread out, filling the sky with startled flocks of duck, heron, and small birds. Even in the bright daylight the glare from the flames became so intense it hurt the eyes.

Four giant clamps gripped the straining rocket as the engines built up to their full thrust and the launch team rapidly checked all systems were go.

T = 0 at 0932 USEDT (2332 AEST), “....all engines running. Lift off. We have lift off.

With maximum thrust built up to the equivalent of 180 million horsepower, equal to 32 Jumbo jet aircraft, the hold down clamps released the straining rocket.

At first slowly, majestically, the mighty vehicle rose off the pad, sliding out of eight guiding taper pins for the first 15 centimetres. The rushing river of searing flames plastered the gantry and created flecks of fire dancing on the steel structure. The fins at the bottom of the rocket cleared the tower and the flames and heat drew away to leave the blackened, blistered edifice standing empty, alone. 77,200 litres of water per minute still tumbled down around the base to preserve it from being destroyed by the heat from the rocket blast.

“The tower is clear,” announced Launch Control, and from that moment the mission became the responsibility of Mission Control in Houston, and us.

The huge crowd of onlookers stared through the heat haze at the shimmering image of the moon ship and saw two gigantic torches of flame shoot out of the bottom and splay out to billowing clouds of fire and smoke. They watched in awe as the rocket majestically rose into the sky and picked up speed to dwindle into a dot atop a spreading plume of smoke. Fifteen seconds later the very ground vibrated as they reeled from the shock waves, louder than any thunderstorm, passed by to dissipate behind them. Australian journalist Derryn Hinch said it was like being hit in the stomach with a cricket bat.


Apollo 11 launch

Apollo 11 heads for space.
NASA image KSC-69PC-397.

Audio of the launch here.

As the three astronauts streaked through the thinning atmosphere, the blue sky in the windows darkened to the black of space. As they went over the Canary Islands they removed their helmet and gloves, and settled down to check that the spacecraft was ready for the big voyage as they raced across the Indian Ocean towards Carnarvon in Western Australia, where the FPQ6 radar confirmed they were in their planned parking orbit.

On the Earth below, 17 tracking stations, 4 ships, and 8 Boeing 707 ARIA (Apollo Range Instrumentation Aircraft) jet aircraft followed every move by the spacecraft and reported back to Houston.


HSK MISSION DAY 1 Thursday 17 July 1969  
Earth Orbit 1  
Track Duration
AOS : 0032:32 AEST LOS : 0037:05
4m 33s

Apollo 11 came up over our horizon right on time, 32 minutes after midnight, for our first pass, the crew busy settling down getting ready for the pass over America and a bit of television. The second orbit was too far north for us to see the spacecraft.


The second orbit over Carnarvon was the big moment for the Capcom at Houston to tell the astronauts they were to go ahead for the lunar burn.

McCandless: “Apollo 11, this is Houston. Slightly less than one minute to ignition and everything is go....slightly less than one minute to ignition.
Armstrong: “Roger....Ignition.

TLC Day 1  
Track Duration
AOS : 0957 AEST LOS : 2045
10h 48m

Honeysuckle Creek did not see the TLI burn at 0222:13 AEST 17 July, pushing the spacecraft to a speed of 39,000 kilometres per hour and pressing the astronauts into their couches with a force of 1g as they broke away from a circular Earth orbit. They rapidly gained altitude, heading towards the dawn. A few moments later the sun was shining on the windows and they were on their way to rendezvous with the moon, 350,980 kilometres away at that moment. We did not contact Apollo 11 again until 7 hours 34 minutes after they had left Earth orbit for the Moon. They had already established a PTC (Passive Thermal Control) roll to even the temperatures around the spacecraft.

The first task for the astronauts was to turn the CSM around and dock with the LM, still nestling in its housing at the end of the Saturn IVB. As Collins brought the two vehicles gently together, he noticed the LM’s flimsy aluminium skin was so thin it rippled to the bursts of gas from the Command Module’s control jets like a breeze across long grass. The two spacecraft mated together, the twelve latches clamped tight, and Collins clambered down to remove the hatch before inspecting the tunnel and clamps, and piloted the CSM away from the Saturn rocket, now looking rather forlorn and empty. They went separate ways, the Saturn going off into solar orbit, and the CSM now locked with the LM, heading for the moon.

HSK MISSION DAY 2 Friday 18 July 1969
TLC Day 2  
Track Duration
AOS : 1037 AEST LOS : 2047
10h 10m

At the Wing site at Tidbinbilla the staff were all settled down and looking forward to their key role tracking the LM on the moon’s surface. At 1825 AEST on 18 July there was a fire in the power supply of the backup transmitter. Looking at the damage, they first estimated it would be at least a week’s work to repair it. But there wasn’t a week left.

Station Director at Tidbinbilla, Don Gray,

“There was a very large auto-transformer in the transmitter power supply which controlled the output voltage. It was called a VOLTROL. This component developed a shorted turn which cooked the secondary. For all money, the transmitter was off the air for days until a spare could be air-shipped from the States.

However we had on staff a most remarkable technician, Alan Blake. He was an ex-RAN Electrical Artificer Chief Petty Officer who had survived the Voyager disaster but only after having been submersed to a considerable depth before escaping. He suffered permanent hearing damage and developed claustrophobia.

For those who remember the transmitter power supply cabinet, there was a very narrow space for maintenance crews to gain access to the control components. You could only crawl in, and then had to back out. Alan Blake went into that space, completely stripped the Voltrol secondary, removed the damaged material, and re-built it from scratch. Of course he had a number of gophers running to get materials and tools for him, but as I recall he spent something like twelve hours in that confined space. When he finished we fired up the transmitter and it worked FIRST TIME.”

Alan Blake

At Tidbinbilla: Don Gray and Alan Blake.
Photo via Mike Dinn, scan Colin Mackellar.

Alan Blake, the Transmitter Field Engineer, tells his story:

“I had just come down from dinner in the canteen when there was a call on the intercom to say there was a fire in the transmitter power supply. I ran out there, and found dense, thick black smoke was everywhere, and knocked off the circuit breaker and waited for the smoke to clear, then went into the cabinet. There was a horrible mess in there. The temperature had been so hot that the top of the cabinet had buckled. It took quite some time for it to cool down enough to touch it.

The only thing to do was to jury rig the thing to get it back on air. We chopped out all the old chunks of cable loom and made up new bunches of wires. In the meantime we pulled out the removable units and there was a queue of blokes from the other subsystems. We gave them the units and drawings and they went down to the store and used anything and everything that could fit in. Ken Cox and I worked through the night, and we had arranged for Geoff Rose to take over the next day. We were down for no more than about 12 hours.”

There were some replacement parts required to finish the job, and these were found at Woomera. Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA, no longer in business), offered to fly the parts to Canberra. A DC3 flew two wooden boxes containing the precious parts from Woomera to Adelaide where the 0445 AEST flight from Adelaide to Melbourne was held back for more than an hour to collect the boxes. In Melbourne the boxes were transferred to a special flight to Canberra.

Don Gray sums up the episode,

“I had many fine moments during my time in the space tracking business but I can honestly say I never felt prouder of the skilled and dedicated people we worked with than when, after the next day’s countdown, the Wing was declared GREEN on the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Status Board.”

Alan Blake

At Tidbinbilla: Ted Wilcox, Ken Cox, Geoff Rose were key members of the team who worked to get the Wing back on air.
Photos: Mike Dinn and Bruce Window.

Keith Aldworth from Tidbinbilla adds:

“I would like to add for the record that what Don Gray said about Alan Blake is very true and Alan was absolutely a hero.

I would also like to mention the two techs who helped him enormously with the task. They were Ted (Stumpy) Wilcox and Graeme Stratford.

They were both small in stature and were able to get inside the power supply cabinet to carry out repairs. I did see the results of the fire just after it occurred and it was so bad that one would think it impossible to repair. Under the expert guidance and knowledge of Alan, they did an amazing job in getting it up and running is such a short time.

I have memories of seeing both Ted and Graeme covered in black, sooty mess from head to foot when they emerged from the Transmitter power supply cabinet.

They were not the only ones involved in that, as much of the componentry was smoke and heat damaged and had to be removed, cleaned and tested before being re-installed. Several other techs were involved in that and many long hours were spent on the tasks. It stands as an example of the dedication that we all had for what we were doing.”

HSK MISSION DAY 3 Saturday 19 July 1969  
TLC Day 3  
Track Duration
AOS : 1020 AEST LOS : 2102
10h 42m

The spacecraft crew were now well settled into a ship’s routine. In a television show Collins said Columbia was a happy ship, with enough room for each crew member to find a corner to float in when they got tired of rattling around banging off the sides of the cabin. He also noted that on Earth the tunnel to the LM was out of reach over their heads, but in weightless space it was a cosy corner he could wedge himself into without the need of a restraining belt.

They went to sleep with the sounds of whirring fans and the occasional thump of a thruster keeping the spacecraft’s attitude.

HSK MISSION DAY 4 Sunday 20 July 1969  
Lunar Orbit Insertion and Lunar Orbits
Track Duration
Initial AOS (Orbit 4) : 1048 Final LOS (Orbit 9) : 2107:30
10h 19m 30s

When the Moon rose above the horizon on Sunday at Honeysuckle, Apollo 11 was already on its fourth orbit.

CSM Lunar Orbit  
Track Duration
4 AOS : 1048:00 LOS : 1314:01
27m 40s
5 AOS : 1202:03 LOS : 1314:01
1h 11m 58s
6 AOS : 1402:45 LOS : 1312:21
1h 9m 36s
7 AOS : 1558:42 LOS : 1710:45
1h 12m 03s
8 AOS : 1757:16 LOS : 1909:08
1h 11m 52s
9 AOS : 2001:30 LOS : 2107:30
1h 6m 00s

During the fourth day Collins swung the CSM around to look at the Moon. Not having seen it for a whole day the three astronauts were startled by its size – it filled their windows like a huge three-dimensional balloon suspended in space, so close they felt they could reach out and touch it. Brilliant sunlight splashed around the rim, while below them the crater-studded surface brooded in a darkness lit by the eerie glow of earthshine.


Shortly before the spacecraft was due to go behind the moon for the first time Houston announced, “Eleven, this is Houston. You are GO for LOI, over.” The LOI (Lunar Orbit Insertion) burn had to take place behind the moon, out of sight of Earth and the tracking stations.

Aldrin: “Roger, Go for LOI.

At 0513 AEST on Sunday July 20 the spacecraft disappeared behind the moon travelling at a speed of 8,400 kilometres per hour. Only Madrid was in contact, Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek were out of sight on the far side of the Earth. The astronauts checked and rechecked the procedure for the burn for what seemed hundreds of times as just one erroneous digit entered in the computer could turn them around and blast them into orbit around the Sun instead of the Moon. They anxiously scanned their displays to keep an eye on the progress of the six minute burn to put them into a lunar orbit of 98 by 272 kilometres. It performed flawlessly.

With no signal from the spacecraft Mission Control in Houston went quiet, the subdued flight controllers mainly seated at their consoles, some standing up, an odd conversation taking place. Bill Anders and Jim Lovell, two of the Apollo 11 back up crew arrived and joined astronaut McCandless at the Capcom console. They were all waiting for the spacecraft to reappear to confirm the burn had gone all right.


Bruce McCandless

Capcom Bruce McCandless at his console in the MOCR, around the time of TLI.
Screen capture from NASA 16mm footage by Colin Mackellar.


The tracking station at Madrid found the signal right on time, the astronauts busy aligning their antenna for the best angle to Earth as they came over the lunar horizon. Goldstone came into view about 45 minutes later. Houston were anxious to know how the burn to put them in lunar orbit had gone.

McCandless at Houston: “Apollo 11, this is Houston. How do you read?”
Collins: “Read you loud and clear, Houston.”
McCandless: “Could you repeat your burn status report?”
Collins: “It was like... it was like perfect.”

A second, critical burn of seventeen seconds put them into an elliptical orbit of 87 by 106 kilometres, ready for the LM to depart for the lunar surface. Critical, because even a burn two seconds too long could put them on a collision course with the other side of the moon.

As Apollo 11 approached the Sea of Tranquillity they could see it was early dawn on the surface below them the sun was just tipping the peaks and boulders with a bright glow while long, jumbled, black shadows stretched across the endless craters. Armstrong and Aldrin were peering through their windows trying to make out the landmarks for the next day’s landing, but they were disappointed to find the actual landing site seemed to be in darkness, so they were not able to preview the landing spot.

Armstrong reported his observations:

“We are currently going over Maskelyne... and Boot Hill, Duke Island, Sidewinder. Looking at Maskelyne W that’s the yaw around checkpoint, and just coming into the terminator at the terminator its ashen grey. If you get further away from the terminator, it gets to be a lighter grey, and as you get closer to the subsolar point, you can definitely see browns and tans on the ground.”

McCandless: “Roger, Eleven. We are recording your comments for posterity.”

Armstrong: “...and the landing site is well into the dark. I don’t think we’re going to be able to see anything of the landing site this early.”

The astronauts prepared to separate the LM from the CSM and settled down to sleep before the momentous and historic events of the next day. “You guys ought to get a good night’s sleep,” ordered Collins, suggesting they take the most comfortable sleeping positions. He was concerned for their well-being and safety. The thought of returning to Earth alone because of an error due to overtiredness would be unthinkable.

At Honeysuckle we didn’t need a two-way handover with the CSM as we finished Rev 9 at 2110 AEST and Madrid picked up Rev 10. Goldstone was out of sight on the other side of the Earth. While we were out of sight of the Moon, Madrid kept contact each time they appeared until it was time for the spacecraft to separate at 100 hours 39 minutes 51 seconds GET, or 0546 AEST on Monday 21 July.

Landing and Walk on the Moon

HSK MISSION DAY 5 Monday 21 July 1969
Undocking : 0546:00 AEST Only Madrid tracking
LM Lunar Landing : 0617:41 AEST Goldstone and Madrid tracking
Track Duration
HSK Prime LM    
AOS : 1112:00 LOS : 2202:00
10h 50m
Tidbinbilla Wing CSM Lunar orbits
17 AOS : 1141:08 LOS : 1252:57
1h 11m 49s
18 AOS : 1348:00 LOS : 1459:50
1h 11m 50s
19 AOS : 1537:43 LOS : 1648:50
1h 11m 07s
20 AOS : 1736:13 LOS : 1848:00
1h 11m 47s
21 AOS : 1934:30 LOS : 2046:28
1h 11m 58s
22 AOS : 2132:50 LOS : 2244:45
1h 11m 55s


In Mission Control the White Team’s flight controllers under Gene Kranz drifted into the control room. As their eyes adjusted to the dim lights, the smell of stale cigarette smoke mixed with discarded fast foods struck their nostrils. A low buzz of conversation supported the subdued feeling of urgency in the air as Glynn Lunney’s shift briefed Kranz’s team. By now every available audio outlet had a headset plugged into it. To be in the operations centre and not have access to the spacecraft communications loop to hear what was going on would be unbearable.



audio White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz – 5 minutes before the CSM reappears around the Moon’s limb. new

Flight Director’s loop audio courtesy of the Johnson Space Center.

Kranz set himself up at the Flight Director’s console and checked out his team. Everyone was Go; the world-wide tracking network was Green. He briefed his troops and announced, “Take Mission Control to battle short.” The main power circuit breakers were locked. The doors were locked. No flight controller could enter or leave the room during this critical period.

approaching landing site

The view through the LM’s window.
NASA image AS11-40-5844.

If all had gone according to the flight plan behind the Moon the LM and CSM should be coming round the rim separated, the LM at an altitude of 15,000 metres ready to land in about 12 minutes. The first big event was at hand, and from now on everything was going to be happening fast.

Madrid and Goldstone had AOS but the LM’s signal was weak and dropping in and out of lock due to its antenna not being optimised. It was very difficult to speak to the astronauts over the noise on the loop.

Hear the landing sequence –

audio 1.) As recorded from Net 1 at Honeysuckle Creek
(Audio from Goldstone), and

audio 2.) From the Network Controller’s Loop in Houston. new

audio 3.) From the Network and FD Loops. new (details)

Coming up to the “PDI (Powered Descent Initiate) Go/No Go” decision all the data dropped out. Kranz, “I delayed with the go/no go with the team for roughly about forty seconds and made the decision to press on.” In the roll call only the Guidance Officer Steve Bales came on line with a doubtful call, “Flight, we’re out on our radial velocity; we’re half way to our abort limits.”

Kranz tensed when he heard the radial velocity was half way to abort limits and found it meant the spacecraft was moving a bit faster than planned. The reason was the astronauts had not fully decompressed the tunnel between the two spacecraft – it should have been a vacuum – so when they separated the slight pressure remaining pushed the spacecraft apart with more velocity than planned. As the error remained constant the problem was accommodated, but still meant they were going to land further downrange than planned, in what was expected to be a more rocky area.

Then an electrical problem appeared, a bad meter reading the AC power had the controllers worried as the AC system powered the gyro’s landing radar. The decreasing height of the LM above the lunar surface was critical now. Their height measured by our ranging systems on the Earth could be anything up to 2,500 metres out at lunar distances and angles, so the height measured by the on board radar was needed at Houston for evaluation and comparison. Kranz was having to grapple with an increasing number of problems rearing up as the LM dropped to the lunar surface, “All through this time my mind is really running. Is there enough data to keep going.”

Just when they wanted to tell the LM they were GO for powered descent through Capcom Charlie Duke, they momentarily lost contact with the LM and had to relay the message via Mike Collins in Columbia.

Duke: “Eagle, Houston. You are GO. Take it all at 4 minutes. You are GO to continue powered descent.
Armstrong nodded his head: “Roger.


Neil Armstrong in the LM simulator

Neil Armstrong at the Commander’s position in Eagle.

(NASA photo KSC-69PC-0318 taken during a pre-mission simulation in the flight crew training building at KSC.)

By now all the flight controllers were pumped up, stretched to the limit, trying to evaluate their ratty data and make decisions on whether their GO was the right decision. With a slight spacecraft attitude change contact with Eagle improved enough for Kranz to hear the astronaut’s final checklist before firing the descent engine. “Engine start….10 per cent thrust” called the LM.

Altitude 12,200 metres.

Aldrin took his eyes off the instrument panel for a moment to look through the window........... “And we got the Earth straight out our front window.

The LM headed down for the moon’s surface, the astronauts looking up at the Earth through the windows, unable to see the moon beneath them. At all times they were very conscious of their home, the Earth a blue and white jewel glittering in the black void of space hanging suspended up there in the lunar sky. The land they were heading for had no water or food or shelter, and the nearest friendly mechanic or technician and their spare parts were three days and over 321,860 kilometres away across the void. No place to get stuck.

The LM was now racing horizontally across the lunar landscape at 5,790 kilometres per hour and had to slow up in stages, to the speed of a jet plane, 965 kilometres per hour, down to the speed of a car at 100 kilometres per hour at an altitude of 2,133 metres, finally hovering above the surface, before dropping vertically into the dust. Armstrong and Aldrin had to make the first ever landing on the moon in one go – there was no way of pulling out for a second attempt.

Altitude 10,200 metres.

Then, quite unexpectedly, a yellow caution light winked at the astronauts from the computer control panel. It was identified as a 1202 alarm. It meant the computer was overloaded and couldn’t do all the tasks in the time available.

Armstrong warned the flight controllers at Houston: “Program alarm.
Duke: “It’s looking good to us, over.”
Armstrong: “It’s a 1202.”

Capcom Charlie Duke said of that moment, “When I heard Neil say 1202 for the first time, I tell you my heart hit the floor. I looked across at Steve Bales but he was busy at his console and came back with the answer almost straight away we were go.”

Jack Garman, a young back-room expert supporting Bales from another console, remembered a similar problem had been tried out in a simulation only a week or so before, quickly reassured Bales: “It’s executive overflow; if it does not occur again, we’re fine.”

26 year old Steve Bales recalled that fateful moment:

“I had just started to relax a little bit, if you can call it relaxing, and I heard the program alarm, and quite frankly, Jack, who had these things memorised said, ‘that’s okay’, before I could even remember which group it was in.... I was frantically trying to look down... by the time I looked at the group and saw which one the alarm was in, Jack said it’s okay, I remembered yeah, that’s one of those we said its okay, I looked up, the rest of the computer looked good, so I said ‘Lets go!’ It took us a long time. In the Control Center any more than three seconds on descent is too long.... and it took us about ten to fifteen seconds.”

One of the alarms was a DP00 which meant the LM’s computer would halt and wait for further instructions – at this stage of the landing an abort situation. The flight control team was now working on a number of complex situations with the potential to create an abort situation but nobody was calling for an abort.


With four minutes to go to the landing the signal from the spacecraft strengthened and settled down so from this point on communications with the LM were solid.

Swiftly dropping down to the moon’s surface the astronauts sweated out a thirty second pause while at Mission Control Kranz snapped out a final tense roll call around his flight controllers. Steve Bales’ decision alone decided the fate of the mission, to abort and terminate the mission then and there, or continue on to success or... the possibility of a disaster. As it turned out it was the right decision, and Bales later collected his Medal of Freedom from the President along with the astronauts.

In the middle of the 1202 crisis, Chuck Deiterich in Retro chopped in:

“Flight, Retro.”
Kranz: “Go Retro.”
Deiterich: “Throttle down 6 plus 25.”
Kranz to Duke: “Six plus twenty five.”

Retro was advising Kranz to pass on to Duke that 6 minutes 25 seconds into the burn the crew should expect the engine to throttle down to 55 per cent power.

Duke: “Roger. We got you. We’re go on that alarm.....six plus 25 throttle down.
Armstrong: “Throttle down on time.
Aldrin: “Throttle down on time! You can feel it here when it throttles down. Better than the simulator.
Duke: “You’re looking great at 8 minutes.”

Altitude 2,800 metres.

Now the LM began to drop its legs to point down to the moon’s surface, and the astronauts could see the moon’s surface in the bottom of their windows.


Armstrong was trained to land the LM. The two pilots had to work together as a cohesive team, Armstrong controlling the spacecraft’s flight while looking out of the window at the landing site; Aldrin concentrating on the display panel and calling out the information he needed. Armstrong had to translate what he saw with what he heard with what he felt to the spacecraft controls to guide the Eagle safely down to the lunar surface.

Armstrong: “Okay. 5000 (feet). 100 feet per second is good. Going to check my attitude control. Attitude control is good.” (The 100 feet per second is the descent rate.)
Duke: “Roger. Copy. Eagle, Houston. You’re GO for landing. Over.”
Armstrong: “Okay. 3000 at 70.”

Gene Kranz

Flight Director Gene Kranz gives Capcom Charlie Duke the “Go for landing” call to pass to the crew.

Screen capture from NASA 16mm footage by Colin Mackellar.

At 610 metres above the lunar surface another alarm winked from the computer, “1201,” said Aldrin with growing concern. With no time for explanations from Houston, they had to trust their lives to the judgment of the flight controllers.

Armstrong: “1201! Okay, 2000 at 50.”
Duke: “Roger, 1201.

In Mission Control Kranz queried Bales again: “1201 alarm?”
Bales had already been onto Garman: “Same type, we’re GO, Flight.”

Kranz to Duke: “Okay, we’re GO.”
Duke: “1201 alarm. We’re GO. Same type. We’re GO.”


Capcom Charlie Duke (left) gives the “We’re GO. Same type. We’re GO.” call on the 1201 alarm.

Jim Lovell (Apollo 11 Backup Commander, centre) and Fred Haise (Backup LM Pilot) are with Charlie on the console.

Screen capture from NASA 16mm footage by Colin Mackellar.

Aldrin: “2000 feet. 2000 feet”
Duke: “Eagle looking great. You’re GO............ Roger 1202. We copy it.

Armstrong was riveted to his controls:

“Now we get to that final landing phase and this is altitude versus range to the landing site. This is about the last of a mile into the touch down spot from a thousand feet (305 metres). This part is normally flown automatically and as you get down to 500 feet (152 metres) you have some options as to what you can do to complete the landing. One is to just leave the thing run automatically. Then there’s several manual options that you can choose from. One is manual attitude control but with an automatic throttle that will control the descent rate to the programmed value that it thinks it should have. One is manual attitude control with a rate of descent mode on the throttle so that you can actually command your descent rate and it’ll freeze. Say you’re coming in at 17 feet (5 metres) per second, it’ll hold 17 feet per second down until you put a blip on the switch and each blip changes your rate of descent mode by one foot (0.3 metre) per second. I really didn’t think that was likely to work, but it did. Matter of fact, it was quite smooth.

The final method that you have is manual attitude and manual throttle. Just hand on throttle like most of our rudimentary VTOL (Vertical Take Off Landing) aircraft and like you would fly a helicopter. Now, you could fly auto, but its not likely that many test pilots would do that. One reason is that the auto system doesn’t know how to pick a good area and can’t change its mind. The second is that when you get right down to the final phases and it turns out there is a little residual velocity of a couple of feet per second sideways you’d have a bad case of stubbing your toe on touch down. For those reasons, I didn’t intend to make an automatic landing; it was my intention to fly the manual mode with this one foot per second incremental rate of descent mode on the throttle into touchdown, which is what I did.

But as we got to the point where you’d normally take over manually, I had been looking out the window and, if you had been listening at the time, all we really saw was a gigantic crater and lots of very big rocks a very unfavourable position to land. Now it looked like we might be able to land short and I was really tempted for a minute because I knew the scientists would have a ball if we could land in the middle of that boulder patch. They would think it was just Jim Dandy if we could run up on the rim and take pictures down the sides of this really big crater and be overjoyed; and I thought about that for a little bit and I didn’t do it. It’s an old rule, when in doubt, land long, and I did. We extended the range down about 1,100 feet (335 metres) past where it would have gone if we had let it go automatically.

I didn’t have any of those 30 storey rocks that Tom (Stafford from Apollo 10) looked at, but I thought that this area with all those automobile sized rocks wasn’t probably a good place for me to try and join them. Well, I thought this was a good spot and then I got closer and decided it wasn’t so I changed the descent rate and changed the attitude and went on a little bit further and thought this was a good spot, and when I got closer, I was dissatisfied and was just absolutely adamant about my God given right to be wishywashy about where I was going to land.”

Back in the Mission Control Center in Houston the flight controllers were quiet, there was little they could do now, but they were getting jittery why wasn’t Armstrong landing? He should have landed by now – he always had in the simulations. There were no clues coming down the voice channel, just figures from Aldrin. They were all staring at their consoles, helpless, not one of them knew why the Eagle was still weaving about above the surface, but all were acutely aware that time and fuel were fast running out.

At a height of 76 metres Aldrin flicked a glance out of his window and had a fleeting impression of the LM’s shadow on the lunar surface ringed with a halo of bright sunlight before a red warning light came on only 5 per cent fuel remained and they still weren’t down. There were only 94 seconds left to land.

Kranz remembers, “That really grabbed my attention, mainly because during the process of training runs we had generally landed by this time. Now it was a question of continuing the countdown. It was a horse race between running out of fuel or getting down on the surface.”

At an altitude of 15 metres they entered what was referred to as the deadman zone. In this zone, if anything had gone wrong if for example, the engine had failed it would probably have been too late to do anything about it before they crashed on the moon. There were no fail-safe abort systems available until after the landing.

From out of the black sky above the pastewhite lunar surface bathed in the contrasty early morning sunlight, the LM appeared with a stream of exhaust gases blasting down at the surface. Like a prehistoric predator, its two windows like beady eyes above the four dangling legs, the LM now hovered 9 metres above the surface, instruments and astronauts desperately searching, trying to probe the lunar dust for a clear spot to land. Armstrong could see small boulders and rocks sticking up out of the blanket of dust blasting away from their rocket motor. A hard white surface appeared through the dust, followed by black shadows of the approaching legs and spindly probes.

Deke Slayton was desperate to hear what Buzz Aldrin was saying and felt Duke was talking too much so clipped him on the arm and said, “Shut up,” and concentrated on his earphones where Aldrin was reciting displays and events displayed on the console in front of him:

..six...forward..... …..lights on .... down two and a half..... forty feet..... down two and a half,........ kicking up some dust.... thirty feet ...... two and a half down..... faint shadow...... four forward...... four forward..... drifting to the right a little...... Okay.....”

Aldrin: “4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little. 20 feet, down a half.”

Duke had to break in, “Thirty seconds....” to advise the crew how much fuel they had left.

Kranz: “We escalated another notch when we got the 30 second call. The next thing we would start doing would be to call down every second from 15 seconds on down the line. No matter what happened, I was not going to call an abort .....”

Everyone was waiting for the 15 second call. Back room guru Bob Nance was monitoring Armstrong’s throttle control positions and was frantically mentally calculating his fuel usage to the amount of fuel remaining.


“Well, they called 60 seconds from the ground, and they called 30 seconds, and I heard that, and the next thing I was supposed to see was the contact light but I never did see that that blue light. They tell me it did come on and Buzz saw it and he called it, but I never saw it. I was all eyeballs out the window at that point.

You know we had some problem with dust the exhaust kicking up dust and it obscured the surface and made it a little difficult because it was flying off parallel to the ground at a very shallow angle and at very high speed, like ground fog. You could see through it, you could see craters and rocks through it and if you had been expecting it, and I should have been, we probably would have neglected it. I’m sure the next crews won’t have that kind of problem. In fact, it did confuse us a little bit. Although it didn’t affect the altitude determination very much, I did have trouble figuring out what my cross range and down range velocities were and I didn’t want to stub my toe on touch down.

We were supposed to take over about 3:30 in the count down and get a low level light, which occurs when you have about 5% of fuel remaining and touch down right about the same time. Well, we took over just a little bit late and got the low level light on time I saw that. That gives you about 94 seconds of flying time left at that point. You have to save the last 20 seconds for an abort. We’re flying in a dead man’s curve down here close to the ground. If the descent engine quits, the ascent engine is unable to be ignited to go through its ignition sequence and get you back on a safe abort before you hit the surface. So, we were, of course, saving those last 20 seconds so that if we did need to abort we could ‘hang the chilli to it’ as they say in Texas, and get out of there while we still had the big powerful descent engine. Then when we ran out of fuel, we could stage, and have plenty of time to get going with the smaller 3,500 lb thrust ascent engine.

Now I deviated from the plan here a little bit. Our idea was that we were going to get to 5 feet (1.5 metres) and let those probes the ones sticking out the bottom of the Lunar Module’s legs touch the ground. They light a blue light in the panel. Then I was going to go about another second which would get me down to about 3 feet, say I was coming down about 2 feet per second, and then I’d punch the stop button. Now its been against my grain to shut off the engine when I was in the air, but it was supposedly an important thing to do because it would prevent the engine from blowing up as it got very close to the surface, or it would avoid overheating of the bottom of the Lunar Module.

Also if we hit hard enough, we would collapse those struts so that the stairsteps on the front would be close enough to the surface so we could get comfortably down.

Well, I forgot all that when I got down and actually touched down at a very low velocity very much like what you’d be used to in a normal helicopter landing. Turned out the thermal effects weren’t so bad and the engine didn’t have any problem and it was a long way from the top stair down to the surface, but we were able to make that 3 feet (1 metre) or so.”

In a maelstrom of dust, shadows, legs, and spent gases, the spaceship Eagle from Earth gently touched down on the lunar surface at 102h 45m 39s GET, 1517:41 USCDT on 20 July (0617:41 AEST 21 July, 1969.)

Aldrin: “Contact light!”
Armstrong: “Shutdown.”
Aldrin: “Okay. Engine stop.”

Aldrin: “At ten seconds we touched down on the lunar surface. The landing was so smooth I had to check the landing lights from the touchdown sensors to make sure the slight bump I felt was indeed the landing. It was.”

Duke: “We copy you down, Eagle.”

The billowing dust just dropped and all was still. Suddenly all the gut-wrenching, urgent decisions were gone – just silence. They had landed safely with a 4.5 degree tilt from vertical and a 13 degree yaw left from the flight path. With no atmosphere there were no familiar sounds from outside, no rustling leaves, no bird calls or human or animal noises, just the sound of their own breathing inside their helmets. The Eagle was safe on the lunar surface in an area ringed on one side by fairly good-sized craters, and on the other side by a boulder field, about the size of a house lot.

The first human voices on the Moon crackled over the intercom and were relayed to the 600 million Earthlings holding their breath. As they all heard the first words from another world in English with an American accent, it seemed that for the first time in history the human inhabitants of the Planet Earth were globally united. Armstrong and Aldrin looked at each other through their visors, reached across and vigorously shook gloved hands, excited by the tension of the events on the way down, before Aldrin responded automatically to their training procedures and began to prepare for an emergency launch when he heard Armstrong announce:

Engine arm is off...... Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed!
Duke: “Roger, Tranquillity. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.
Aldrin: “Thank you.”
Duke: “You’re looking good here.”
Armstrong: “Okay. Let’s get on with it. Okay, we’re going to be busy for a minute.”

Charlie Duke gratefully sank back into his chair, took a deep breath, and exchanged grins with Deke Slayton. He could hardly believe it had happened.

Neil on ladder

A relieved Charlie Duke smiles at the NASA cameraman from his Capcom console moments after the touchdown.

Astronauts Jim Lovell (Apollo 11 Backup Commander) and Fred Haise (Backup LM Pilot) are next to him.

With thanks to Paolo Attivissimo.

“Okay everybody – T1, stand by for T1.” Kranz rasped out to the flight controllers while Duke was still saying, “We copy you on the ground”, but then for a moment he was speechless. The 35 year old crew-cut Kranz, who had the flight control team and himself under rigid control all the way down, admitted,

“On the consoles for the TV tubes they’ve got two handles and I found myself with my left hand holding onto that handle like the console was going to run away and I kept scribing my notes and the paper kept rolling up on me because I’d be embedding notes that I was taking during descent, and when we finally got down on the surface the viewing room... there were no people in there during training... they started cheering... that’s when I finally found, my God, we’d landed!

When the viewing room erupted, I sorta froze and was speechless and just rapped my arm on the console and broke my pencil and bruised myself from my palm all the way up to my elbow.”

The sudden pain was enough for him to regain control and coolly announce, “All right, everybody settle down, and let’s get ready for a T+1 STAY/NO STAY.”

Duke: “Roger, Eagle, and you are Stay for T1. Over. Eagle you are Stay for T1.”
Armstrong: “Roger, understand Stay for T1.”

Gene Kranz

Flight Director Gene Kranz gives Charlie Duke the “Stay for T1” call to pass to the crew.

Screen capture from NASA 16mm footage by Colin Mackellar.


T+1 was one minute after landing – decision time for staying or launching in a hurry if there was danger to the astronauts or spacecraft. There were only three minute or twelve minute abort points – after twelve minutes they would have to wait for Collins in Columbia to go around the Moon again.

Just after Eagle had landed there was a moment of anxiety when engineers in Mission Control noticed the pressure rising dramatically in one of the descent engine fuel lines. The residual heat from the shut down engine was creeping up to a slug of frozen fuel left in the pipe, with the consequence it might become unstable and explode like a small hand grenade and cause damage to the ascent stage. Just when the engineers were about to hit the urgent action button the pressure began dropping and the tension was over. Kranz, “We used a cryogenic bottle to pressurise our descent engine and we are wondering if this thing is going to explode.” Armstrong and Aldrin, however, did not consider it a serious problem.

While Armstrong and Aldrin were in constant communication with Mission Control, Collins in the Command Module was spinning around the moon, relying on somebody relaying the events to tell him what was happening. After forty minutes of complete isolation behind the moon on each orbit, he could talk and listen to the Earth for seventy minutes through Goldstone and our Wing at Tidbinbilla, but he only had about eight minutes in touch with Eagle each time he passed over Tranquillity Base. Then it was back to another forty minutes of isolation. He happened to be in the contact zone when they landed, so heard the verbal exchanges of the landing.

Duke: “Rog. Columbia this is Houston. Say something they ought to be able to hear you. Over.”
Collins: “Roger, Tranquillity Base. It sure sounded great from up here. You guys did a fantastic job.”
Armstrong: “Thank you. Just keep that orbiting base ready for us up there now.”
Collins: “Will do.”

Gene Kranz
Gene Kranz (centre) in the Flight Director’s seat during the Apollo 11 mission.


But where had they landed? Nobody was sure. It wasn’t that easy – the mapping people were sweating now. Collins in Columbia was vainly scanning the lunarscape for signs of the LM each time he passed over, guided by Houston’s latest update from the Mapping Sciences Laboratory in Houston. Using huge lunar maps and data from the spacecraft and tracking stations they narrowed it down to an 8 kilometres radius. Armstrong and Aldrin could not identify anything of significance from their position. It wasn’t until they were half way home that their position was pinpointed by a chance remark by Armstrong.

Armstrong thought they had landed three miles long and there have been various opinions why, with Gene Kranz offering the explanation it was some unexpected residual pressure remaining in the tunnel during undocking kicking the spacecraft apart.

I did some research and found that Apollo 11 did not have a ground computer program called a Lear Processor, named after the principal developer, William Lear. The Lunar Module had two computers providing position velocity and other information – the Primary Guidance and Navigation System (PGNCS) and the Abort Guidance System (AGS). The outputs of these two systems were continuously compared and usually were in agreement. If a large discrepancy was detected, a third source was required to identify the defective system. The third source was provided by the S-Band doppler measurement of the ground tracking stations, which had the required accuracy with the application of the Lear Processor, not available for Apollo 11.

In 2006 I contacted Jay Greene, the Flight Dynamics Officer in the trench in Mission Control at the time, and he gave me the following explanation for the long landing:

“The long landing was due to many reasons. Primarily it was because of the way we had to process the tracking data and the staleness of the resulting state vector at the time of the descent initiation. This was then worsened when the state was propagated in the presence of an immature lunar gravity model (mascons) and uncoupled attitude maneuvers (rotations had translational components).

The Staleness was because in order to generate a state vector we needed an entire front side pass of tracking data which was then processed while the vehicle was on the back side of the moon and uplinked on the subsequent front side pass. So, the vector used for descent was almost two revs old when we got ready to do the maneuver. And, this "old" state then had to be propagated for almost two orbits.

Future missions benefited from more data to improve the gravity model: a better mapping of the lunar masscons and the development of a state correction technique which was known as Noun 69.

This new technique came about after analyzing the Apollo 11 data and noting that there was a huge radial error in the state when the vehicle was acquired coming around from behind the moon and, that error, which could be accurately measured, was directly related to the down-track error in the state at ignition. The reason the radial error could be known was because it was directly along the line of site to the ground tracking stations and thus was a direct measure as opposed to a derived measurement.

Knowing the downtrack error the next problem was figuring out how to get this new intelligence to the vehicle navigation and guidance. Input to the Apollo computer was done by a series of verbs and nouns. These told the computer what action to take and the noun told it what value to change. In this case we didn’t want to change the state because we needed to keep the LM compatible with the CSM in case we needed to abort and rendezvous. So, what we did was change the location of the landing site to compensate for the measured error.

Noun 69 was used for the first time on Apollo 12 and was the reason we were able to land with the accuracy we did. It was so successful it was used on all subsequent landings. Without the Noun 69 trick on subsequent missions Apollo 11 would have been no worse than any of the other flights.”


The flight plan called for a four hour rest period after landing. As everything had gone according to schedule, the LM was in good shape, and the astronauts weren’t admitting to being tired, they were very keen to get out before their rest period.

Armstrong: “We wanted to do the EVA (lunar walk) as soon as possible. It would make more sense to go ahead and complete the EVA while we were still awake and not try to put that activity in the middle of a sleep period.”

Armstrong: “Our recommendation at this point is planning an EVA, with your concurrence, starting about 8 o’clock this evening, Houston time. That is about three hours from now.”
Duke; “Stand by.”
Armstrong: “Well, we will give you some time to think about it.”
Duke: “Tranquillity Base, Houston. We thought about it. We will support it. We’re go at that time. Over.”
Armstrong: “Roger.”


As I was on the night shift it was my job to get the equipment ready for Frank Campbell to support the day’s momentous events. Goldstone would be tracking two-way with the LM on the Moon’s surface when it came over the hill. We began our Site Readiness Tests (SRT) checks at 0600 AEST and by 1042 Honeysuckle Creek was ready for the day’s events and went into the H-30 count, ready for an 1112 acquisition.

Gorton at video console

Before 0900 AEST, Australian Prime Minister John Gorton visited the station. Here he speaks with Ed von Renouard at the Video Console.

Photo: Hamish Lindsay. More on the PM’s visit in this section.


Outside it was a freezing winter’s day with sleet showers driving in from the west as the 26 metre antenna dropped down to the horizon and patiently waited. Inside the building the atmosphere thickened with tension as the day shift geared up for the first signs of a signal.


HSK antenna 21 July 1969

Honeysuckle Creek, Monday 21 July 1969. Hamish Lindsay, who took this photo, writes –

“This picture was taken of the HSK antenna tracking the Apollo 11 Lunar Module just before Armstrong took his first step onto the lunar surface.

Tom Reid, the Station Director, sent me out to record the moment. It was a wet and cold mid-winter morning – we were suffering sleet showers at the time, which you can see on the hills behind.”

At 1112 AEST the Moon rose above the gum-tree clad mountains to the east beside Deadman’s Hill and the receivers promptly locked onto a strong signal from the lunar surface. Anxious eyes scanned all the readouts and reported good figures to the Ops Console.

The operations areas were cleared for action as the astronauts prepared for the EVA. In contrast to Houston, there were no fast foods available in the Australian bush to be left about. There was 1 hour and 41 minutes to Armstrong putting his boot on the lunar surface. Over in the Wing at Tidbinbilla they had just begun tracking Michael Collins in the CSM on his 17th Orbit.

Boresight camera

The boresight television camera shows Honeysuckle Creek’s 85 foot antenna is pointed straight at Tranquility Base.

From the Super 8 movie by Ed von Renouard, Monday 21 July 1969.

Boresight camera

Here’s a simulated view for comparison. (The boresight TV picture is rotated as the antenna turns on its axes to follow the Moon, which is why the orientation doesn’t match the simulated view.)

Nearly an hour after Honeysuckle had acquired the signal, away over the paddocks, 250 kilometres to the north north west as the crow flies from Canberra, the CSIRO’s famous 64 metre dish at Parkes was wound down to its limits, waiting for the Moon to rise. The Director, John Bolton and Neil Mason were at the controls, and about 20 other operators were gathered in the control room and tea room below, listening to the astronauts, trying to figure out when they were going to open the hatch and would the Moon be in their main feed when they did. It looked as though it was going to be a race.

To add to their anxiety, powerful gusts of wind stirring thick dust clouds could be seen to the south, racing towards their vulnerable antenna. Unable to do anything at this late stage they winced as 112 kilometre an hour gusts (ten times over the specified safety limit) attacked the big dish, slamming it against the zenith angle drive pinions. Luckily the winds eased before Armstrong climbed out and Parkes was able to provide one of history’s greatest telecasts, despite the winds continuing to batter the antenna beyond its safety limits.

Using a less sensitive ‘off-axis’ detector, Parkes was able to receive the television pictures just as the LM’s camera was switched on, but because they would have a lower quality picture and could expect a break in their data switching to the main feed, were not selected to be broadcast to the networks until the LM’s signal reached the main beam.


In Mission Control there were two teams of controllers, one led by Clifford Charlesworth to run the EVA, and one led by Milton Windler to run the sleep period. These two teams now had to stand by while the EVA decision was under way. Charlesworth, nicknamed ‘the Mississippi Gambler’ by his peers because of his apparent laid back attitude, won the next shift when the decision to go for a walk first came down the line. He took over from Kranz, and settled in with his controllers to support the EVA. A poll confirmed everyone was GO.

Mission Control was ready.

John Saxon, Operations Supervisor at Honeysuckle:

“The checks on the portable life support systems at this point were in a totally different sequence to what we were expecting every time they changed modes we had to make major reconfigurations on the ground we were really, really busy trying to keep up with the astronauts doing their own thing.

The busiest man without question, was Kevin Gallegos, the man at the front end at the Sub Carrier Demodulation equipment because all these modes affected how he routed the signals through the station and he had to literally second guess what the astronauts were doing, because they were not following the planned sequence. He was calling out all the things he was seeing, we were then directing the telemetry people who were actually processing the support data such as the astronauts heart beats, trying to report to Houston what was happening all the time, telling them what we were doing, and keeping a log of all the events. It was a real team effort.”

Kevin Gallegos, who was working on the Data Demodulators (SDDS) using an oscilloscope to watch the images (in phosphor green) remembered:

“I broke out in a cold sweat because they were saying things should be happening, the Saxons of the world were saying it had happened, the telemetry bloke was looking around saying ‘where is it?’ and I looked up and found to my horror that I wasn’t patched right. It was one of those things you have gone over that many times in your head I just looked at it in utter disbelief so I quickly whipped it around, and in the euphoria of the moment everything took off. There’s ten seconds of my life there where I can still feel that cold sweat thirty five years later!”

Kevin Gallegos

Kevin Gallegos at SDDS
(the Signal Data Demodulation System) on Monday July 21, 1969.

From the Super 8 movie by Ed von Renouard.

On the Moon Armstrong and Aldrin were slowly hurrying into their EVA suits in the cramped space of the LM’s cabin, surrounded by vulnerable switches and instrument panels. Every move had to be meticulously carried out and checked. A lot of the drill took longer than planned because they never had a chance to simulate all of it under the right conditions – such as clearing away the remnants of their last meal. Armstrong took a look out the window to see the conditions outside and commented,

“I still find that the area around the ladder is in a complete dark shadow, so we’re going to have some problem with the TV… but I am sure you will see – you’ll get a picture from the lighted part.”

By the time Honeysuckle Creek had locked on to the LM’s signal the astronauts were nearly ready to open the hatch.

At 1139 AEST, 27 minutes after we had acquired the LM’s signal, Aldrin reached for the handle to open the hatch.

Armstrong: “Everything is go here. We’re just waiting for the cabin pressure to bleed, to below enough pressure to open the hatch.”
Houston: “Roger, we’re showing a real low static pressure on your cabin. Do you think you can open the hatch at this pressure?”
Armstrong: “We’re going to try it....”

The hatch stayed stubbornly shut as there was still some pressure in the LM’s cabin. Aldrin tried peeling a corner of the hatch seal back and that released the pressure to allow the hatch to open.

“The hatch is coming open,” said Armstrong as he watched a little flurry of ice particles burst through the widening slot. With the hatch open he eased himself though the opening, careful to guide the bulky EMU and its antennas through the hatch without snagging anything.

Aldrin reminded him to open the MESA (Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly) door to expose the television camera, but had forgotten to turn the camera on:

Aldrin: “Did you get the MESA out?”
Armstrong reached out to yank the D ring and lanyard: “I’m going to pull it now, ................. Houston, the MESA came down all right.”



audio The First Step – 19 min 56 sec / 4.6MB –

Starting at 12:53:18pm on Monday 21st July 1969 (AEST).

Recorded by Bernard Scrivener at Honeysuckle Creek – Net 1 audio from Goldstone. Digitised by Mike Dinn.

McCandless: “This is Houston. Roger, we copy. We’re standing by for your TV.”
Armstrong: “Houston, this is Neil. Radio check?”

TV camera mounted on the MESA

A mockup of the MESA with the camera mounted upside down.
NASA image S69-31584.


Armstrong was now outside the LM. As he was a communication relay station for Aldrin still inside, both astronauts were following their checklists which called for confirmation they had radio contact through the external EVA antenna. Houston also reminded Aldrin to turn the TV Camera on.

McCandless: “Neil, this is Houston. You’re loud and clear. Break. Break. Buzz, this is Houston. Radio check and verify TV circuit breaker in.”
Aldrin: “Roger. TV circuit breakers in and read you loud and clear.

McCandless: “Roger............. and we’re getting a picture on the TV.”
Aldrin: “You got a good picture, huh?”
McCandless: “There’s a great deal of contrast in it, and currently it’s upside down on our monitor, but we can make out a fair amount of detail.”

At Honeysuckle, television technician Ed von Renouard was watching his screen intently for the first signs of a picture. He heard Aldrin say the circuit breaker was in and suddenly, at 1254 AEST, an image appeared. There was a flurry of energetic activity as the television operators tried to decipher the strange fuzzy shapes on their screens. This was the conversation on the interstation communication channel as the operators stared at the historic images on the screens before them.

Goldstone: “TV on line, Goldstone TV on line.”
Honeysuckle: “Honeysuckle video on line.”
Houston TV: “Houston TV, we have both sites five by.”
Houston TV: “Goldstone, can you confirm that your reverse switch is in the proper position for the camera being upside down?”
Goldstone: “Stand by, we will go to reverse position. We are in reverse.”
Houston TV: “Roger, thank you. All stations, we have just switched video to Honeysuckle.”

The first television frames used were being sent by the big 64 metre Mars antenna at the Goldstone Tracking Station in California, but they were in trouble as Bill Wood, USB Lead Engineer at Goldstone explains:

“I saw the network TV here – we were picking up the commercial television out of Los Angeles and when we saw the switch from Goldstone to Honeysuckle there was a pronounced improvement in the video quality. ‘Hey, look at the picture from Honeysuckle!’ and I thought ‘Good Lord there’s something wrong with our system – they are getting it much better than we are.’”

(See the ‘Parkes and Honeysuckle’ page in the Apollo 11 TV section for details.)

Ed von Renouard, the television technician at Honeysuckle Creek:

“When I was sitting there in front of the scan converter, waiting for a pattern on the input monitor, I was hardly aware of the rest of the world.

I heard Buzz Aldrin say ‘TV circuit breaker in’ and at the same moment I saw the sloping strut of the Lunar Module’s leg against the moon’s surface.

The input monitor receiving the slow scan from the spacecraft showed the scene upside down, but this was expected and planned for, and our signal went to Sydney right way up. A few weeks before the mission someone at NASA discovered that when the MESA hatch with the TV camera attached was opened the camera would be upside down, so a simple switch was installed at the tracking stations to invert the picture.”

McCandless: “Okay, Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now.

Neil on ladder

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder. GET 109:22:40

Photo taken from the video console at Honeysuckle Creek.


With troubles at Goldstone, and Parkes yet to receive a main beam signal, Houston video switched to the Honeysuckle Creek video signal being sent to them by Sydney Video, though they left the sound from Goldstone, and viewers around the world were able to make out the ghostly looking scene of the black sky and white lunar surface with Armstrong’s legs carefully seeking each rung of the LM’s ladder.

Honeysuckle TV first 5 minutes

This recently-discovered video recording of the feed from Honeysuckle Creek to the Sydney Video switching centre shows the TV start just as Bruce McCandless calls, “We’re getting a picture on the TV!”

It’s a 20MB MPEG4 video file – click on the picture to open the file in a new window, or right click to download.

Unaware of the television picture dramas on Earth, Armstrong worked his way to the bottom of the ladder and looked down. The impact of landing should have compressed the LM’s legs and only given him a reasonable step down but his landing had been so gentle he still had a metre to jump down from the bottom rung. He jumped for the LM’s dish-shaped footpad and to check he could still get back on the ladder immediately jumped back up. With the Moon’s gravity it was no problem, so Armstrong returned to the footpad and looked down at the surface.

“I’m at the foot of the ladder.

The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained as you get close to it; It’s almost like a powder. The groundmass is very fine …

Okay I’m going to step off the LM now.”

Armstrong on the footpad

Neil Armstrong on the footpad, about to step onto the surface.
GET 109:24:39. Photo taken at the video console at Honeysuckle Creek.
Click here for more TV images from HSK.

Carefully he raised his left boot and planted it onto the soil, checking it would take his weight.

At 2156:20 USCDT, July 20 (1256:20 AEST July 21 1969) 38 year old Neil Alden Armstrong from Wapakoneta, Ohio, USA, stepped onto the lunar surface and spoke those immortal words:

“That’s one small step for man…. one giant leap for mankind.”

A breathless world, glued to every television and radio set available on the planet, was mesmerised by the moment. Buzz Aldrin was watching through the hatch. Still holding on to the LM, Armstrong dragged his boot across the soil, making furrows. The dusty lunar soil clung to his boot like a fine black powder. Now confident, he let go of the LM and tried walking around. He felt quite buoyant, his 158 kilogram weight with the spacesuit on Earth now only 26 kilograms.

Armstrong: “The surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in the fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots.

I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe one eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.”

McCandless: “Neil, this is Houston, we’re copying.”

Then after a pause, Armstrong: “There seems to be no difficulty in moving around, as we suspected. It’s even perhaps easier than the simulations of one sixth g that we performed in various simulations on the ground. It’s absolutely no trouble to walk around.”

Kevin Gallegos

The monitor on the scan converter at Honeysuckle
shows Armstrong using the LEC (Lunar Equipment Conveyor) to bring supplies to the surface.
Adrin was still inside the LM at this point.

This is the monitor directly in front of Ed von Renouard in the photo below.
From the Super 8 movie by Ed von Renouard. Scan: David Woods.

At this point Columbia was out of sight behind the moon. Collins had been trying to locate the LM from orbit (he never did), but he desperately wanted to hear what Armstrong was going to say when he stepped on the moon and he realised he was the only person out of contact with the epoch making events. All the billions of people around Earth and the two on the other side of the moon, and he was the only person completely cut off from it all! Complete silence except for the spacecraft noises. Columbia did not reappear until Armstrong and Aldrin were raising the flag, so Collins missed hearing Armstrong’s momentous step onto the lunar surface.

After Armstrong prepared deploying the camera equipment:

Looking up at the LM, I’m standing directly in the shadow now looking up at Buzz in the window, and I can see everything quite clearly. The light is sufficiently bright, backlighted into the front of the LM, that everything is clearly visible.”

After some discussion on cameras Armstrong said,

“I’ll step out and take some of my first pictures here.”

McCandless: “Rog, Neil, we’re reading you loud and clear. We see you getting some pictures and the contingency sample.”

After taking the first photographs, Armstrong moved into the sunlight and began collecting the first contingency soil samples. He found the surface was soft on top but he ran into a hard layer of very cohesive material 17 centimetres underneath.

Bryan Sullivan, Technical Officer in the computer area remembers:

Bryan Sullivan

“I arrived on shift, sat down at the computer console with the rest of the team, and pulled on my headset. The previous shift were still in the middle of the five hour SRT that had begun several hours ago. In the Telemetry area Mike Linney was running simulated mission data from the analog tape recorders through the telemetry decommutators. Les Hughes was selecting the different decom. formats corresponding to requests from CADFISS TM. I took over from Don Loughhead monitoring of the various data formats being transmitted to the Real Time Computers via Goddard Data Link.

Quietly and smoothly the night shift unplugged their headsets and withdrew from the activity as a fresh team got up to speed. Eventually all was calm, as we listened to the astronauts chatting away on Net 1.

We just watched and listened, except for the periodic computer keyboard entries and magnetic tape changes. Both the Command and Telemetry computer software were functioning perfectly. By midday people began to file into the operations areas, secretaries, store men, clerks, maintenance men.

When I looked around they were all standing like statues silently behind me. Even Bill Shaw the station gardener had abandoned his ride-on mower. Everyone stood well back, though, as we scanned the rows of blinking lights on the computers and peripheral equipment with one eye and with our other eye on the flickering CCTV monitors, waiting for the first sign of a picture from the Moon.

Suddenly the flickering blank greyness on the monitor gave way to a fuzzy black and white scene of a ladder upside down. A few seconds later ‘Video Von’ (Ed von Renouard) flicked the switch to invert the image.

I managed to stretch my headset cable far enough to look over Ed’s shoulder and see the Slow Scan monitor and know that I was viewing the historic scene microseconds ahead of the rest of the world’s media.”

Slow scan monitor

Honeysuckle’s video tech Ed von Renouard at the scan converter.

The slow scan TV picture from Apollo 11 was displayed on the monitor at the top left. The switch to invert the image is the small toggle switch directly above his head.

Scan by Hamish Lindsay, photo taken during Apollo 12. Large, Larger.

Tom Reid, Honeysuckle Creek Station Director:

“There were four contingencies which resulted in Honeysuckle Creek being the station which sent the picture of Neil Armstrong’s footstep around the world.

First of all the original Flight Plan called for the egress to occur when the Goldstone and Parkes 64 metre antennas were in view, so there would be 100 per cent redundancy in 64 metre antennas. Armstrong, however decided to come out early, and the Mission Controllers decided they wouldn’t oppose that. Because of that, when they actually did come out Parkes didn’t have a view because they had an elevation constraint, only able to come down to 29° 38’ above the horizon (the moon wasn’t high enough for the Lunar Module’s signals to enter their main beam).

Unfortunately at the same time there was a problem at Goldstone, and they were sending a poor quality slow scan upside-down TV picture back. Due to the transmitter failure earlier at Tidbinbilla, Honeysuckle Creek was tracking the Lunar Module.”

Eight minutes after the television was switched on, the CSIRO’s 64 metre antenna at Parkes came on line at 1302 AEST when the LM on the moon rose high enough above the horizon for its signal to enter the main feed of the big dish providing a 10db increase in signal strength over the Honeysuckle signal.

Neil Mason hunched over his controls, concentrating on following the LM’s signals while around him he could hear alarm bells mixed with creaks and thumps as the motors tried to hold the antenna against the onslaught of the wind tearing at the dish. Worried staff were studying the strain gauges, wondering how much punishment the antenna could take. Bolton gave the order to keep going. When a clear picture appeared on their screens from the main feed at Parkes, Sydney Video switched to the Parkes signal and remained with those pictures for the rest of the two-and-a-half hour broadcast.

Sydney Video advised Houston TV:

Sydney Video: “Houston TV, Sydney Video.”
Houston TV : “Houston TV, Go ahead.”
Sydney Video: “Please be advised I have a very good picture from Parkes, shall I give it to you?”
Houston TV : “Roger”
Sydney Video: “You have it.”
Houston TV : “Roger, beautiful picture, thank you.”
Houston TV: “We are switching to Parkes at this time.”

Network : “Honeysuckle, Network.”
Station Director Tom Reid: “Network, Honeysuckle.”
Network : “You might pass on to the Parkes people their labour was not in vain, they’ve given us the best TV yet.”
Reid: “Roger, thank you very much, they’ll appreciate that, they’re monitoring.”

Within 14 minutes, at 1310 AEST, Aldrin began backing cautiously out of the LM’s hatch.

Aldrin: “Okay, Now I want to back up and partially close the hatch.... making sure not to lock it on my way out!”
Armstrong chuckled: “A particularly good thought.”
Aldrin: “That’s our home for the next couple of hours, we want to take good care of it.”

Buzz descending

Buzz backing out of the hatch of the LM.
NAAS image AS11-40-5863. Johnson Space Center.

Aldrin worked his way down the ladder and jumped onto the LM’s footpad. He also tried to leap back onto the ladder, but missed the bottom rung by about two centimetres, so tried again...

Armstrong: “There you’ve got it.”
Aldrin: “That’s a good last step.....!”
Armstrong: “Yeah, about a three footer.”
Aldrin: “Beautiful view!”
“Isn’t that something! Magnificent sight out here,”
Armstrong greeted 39 year old Edwin Eugene Aldrin from Montclair, New Jersey, as he joined him to become the second man to step onto the lunar surface.
Magnificent desolation.” returned Aldrin, searching for an appropriate remark, was inspired by Armstrong’s comment.



“Stepping out of the Lunar Module’s shadow was a shock. One moment I was in total darkness, the next in the sun’s hot floodlight. I stuck my hand out past the shadow’s edge into the sun, and it was like punching through a barrier into another dimension.”


Armstrong in sun

Armstrong steps into the Sun as he waits for Aldrin to descend the ladder. Picture through Parkes.


The two astronauts found the spacesuits very comfortable with little interference to their mobility, except when bending down to pick up objects from the lunar surface. The suits were designed to cope with the extreme conditions expected in the lunar environment, isolating the astronauts from the vacuum outside and the wildly fluctuating temperatures. The temperature of the ground they were walking on could vary from 110°C in the sunlight to 170°C in the shade. Armstrong said he was not aware of any temperature changes inside the suit while he touched objects or walked about.


“From inside the cockpit the moon looked warm and inviting. The sky was black but it looked like daylight out on the surface, and the surface looked tan. There is a very peculiar lighting effect on the lunar surface, which seems to make the colours change. If you look down sun, down along your own shadow, or into the sun, the moon is tan. If you look cross-sun it is darker, and if you look straight down at the surface, particularly in the shadows, it looks very, very dark. When you pick up material in your hands it is also dark, grey or black.

The material is of a generally fine texture, almost like flour, but some coarser particles are like sand. Then there are, of course, scattered rocks and rock chips of all sizes.”

The equipment on their backs had weighed 38 kilograms on Earth, but on the Moon they were only 6.3 kilograms.


“I felt buoyant and was full of goose pimples, I quickly discovered that I felt balanced comfortably upright only when I was tilted slightly forward. I also felt a bit disorientated: on the Earth when one looks at the horizon, it appears flat; on the moon, so much smaller than the Earth and quite without high terrain, the horizon in all directions visibly curved away from us.”


“After landing we felt very comfortable in the lunar gravity. It was, in fact, in our view preferable both to weightlessness and to the Earth’s gravity.”

Aldrin added,

“One sixth gravity was agreeable, less lonesome than weightlessness, I had a distinct feeling of being somewhere.”

Armstrong felt they had landed in a timeless place, with no changes to mark time passing as we know it. Although the astronauts were locked into the time in Texas, here at Tranquillity the scene would have been just the same a thousand years ago, and probably the same a thousand years in the future. With no atmosphere, they found that everything they could see was starkly clear; features on the horizon were as sharp and clear as the rocks at their feet.

Aldrin looked above the LM. The Earth hung in a black sky, a disk cut in half by the day night terminator. It was mostly blue, with swirling white clouds, and he could make out a brown land mass [Australia!]. Glancing down at his boots, he realised that the soil he and Armstrong were stomping through had been there longer than any of those brown continents.

The astronauts set up the Stars and Stripes flag, finding it difficult to punch the pole into the lunar soil, or lurain as some like to call it. They only managed to sink it into the soil about 20 centimetres, then lean it so the weight of the flag didn’t pull it over.

Buzz and the flag

After a debate on which flags to use it ended up as the Stars and Stripes as the Congress of the USA financed the whole project. It was not a territorial claim but was seen as a symbol of freedom and to identify the nation that achieved the first landing.

Due to temperatures expected to rise to 1,000°C during the lunar landing the flag assembly was stowed in a shroud clamped to side of the ladder on the morning of departure from Earth. Aldrin felt the $US5.50 flag symbolised an “almost mystical unification of all people in the world at that moment,” though he was dreading the possibility of the flag collapsing into the dust in front of the millions of viewers.

At 1330 AEST the two astronauts gathered around the LM’s steps and ‘unveiled’ a small plaque to commemorate the historic landing mounted on a strut between the third and fourth rungs of the ladder.

unveiling the plaque

Aldrin (centre) and Armstrong unveil the plaque.

Picture through Parkes, from the Apollo 11 TV video restoration.

In Washington President Richard Nixon was watching the moonwalk in the White House with Frank Borman from Apollo 8 and Bob Haldeman. It was nearly midnight as they were standing around the television set in his private office when they watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.

At 1349 AEST he went into the Oval Office next door where the media TV cameras had been set up for his split screen phone call to the moon. Armstrong’s voice was coming through loud and clear through Goldstone. The President said:

Because of what you have done the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquillity, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and Tranquillity to Earth. For one priceless moment, in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one. One in their pride in what you have done. One in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.

Away up beyond the sky, where it was a bright sunlit 11 pm by their watches, the men on the moon paused and listened to their President. His voice was being transmitted through the Wing at Tidbinbilla to Collins, and through Goldstone to Armstrong and Aldrin on the lunar surface. Armstrong responded with:

Thank you Mr. President. Its a great honour and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, and with interest and a curiosity and a vision for the future. Its an honour for us to be able to participate here today.
Nixon: “Thank you very much, and I look forward, all of us look forward to seeing you on the Hornet on Thursday.”
Aldrin: “I Look forward to that very much, sir.”

Aldrin saluted the camera sitting there on its tripod in that desolate, empty wasteland, and the two astronauts turned to the job of collecting more samples of moon rocks.

Buzz and LM

Buzz Aldrin working at the MESA.
NAAS image: AS11-40-5927. Johnson Space Center.

Armstrong threw a rock with the comment, “You can really throw things a long way out here.” As he darted about collecting the rock samples, his pulse rate went up from 90 to 140, peaking at 160, as he hauled the samples up into the LM with a special tackle called the LEC (Lunar Equipment Conveyor) he nick-named the “Brooklyn clothes line.”

Armstrong at LM

One of the rare pictures of Armstrong, here working at the LM.
NASA image AS11-40-5886. Johnson Space Center.

An important part of the Apollo missions was to leave a scientific package on the moon’s surface for the tracking stations on Earth to monitor the conditions around the landing site after the astronauts left. Apollo 11’s package was called EASEP (Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package), while the remaining lunar landing missions left a more elaborate package called ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiments Package).

The instruments measured particles from the sun, the moon’s seismic activity, and a laser beam reflector for accurately measuring the distance between the Earth and moon. Carnarvon’s 9 metre dish was scheduled to track EASEP, at times it was the prime support. In the last hour of their walk they set out the EASEP equipment.


At 0211 USCDT (1711 AEST) the hatch was closed to complete a 2 hour 47 minute 14 second moonwalk. As the two astronauts struggled with the rocks and suits in the cramped LM cabin there was a 10 minute break in voice communications with the ground as they had to fold their back pack antennas to avoid damage to the LM’s interior.

Their first chore was to pressurise the LM’s cabin and to begin stowing the rock boxes, film magazines, and anything else they wouldn’t need until they were docked again with Columbia. They removed their boots and the EMUs, opened the hatch and threw them onto the lunar surface.

Houston did not miss anything,

“Roger, Tranquillity. We observed your equipment jettison on the TV and the passive seismic experiment recorded shocks when each PLSS hit the surface – over.”
“You can’t get away with anything any more, can you?” Armstrong registered a jocular complaint.

PLSS dumped

The second backpack is dumped down the ladder.

It has just been pushed out of the door and is on the porch, about to tumble end over end down the ladder.

The first PLSS rests at the bottom of the leg.

Taken from Ed von Renouard’s Super 8 movie of the scan converted monitor at Honeysuckle Creek. Screenshot: Colin Mackellar.

They expected the lunar dust particles to float around inside the LM, but were surprised to find that they never did, generally staying where they lodged, probably due to the fact they were so dry they were attracted to anything with static electricity. This meant they were able to remove their helmets without the worry of the dust getting in their eyes and noses.

Neil Armstrong
Buzz Aldrin

Back inside Eagle, Neil and Buzz take each other’s photograph after their successful EVA.

Neil Armstrong after the EVA
Buzz Aldrin took this portrait of an elated but tired Neil Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after the EVA. Image AS11-40-5874. This and the two above, courtesy of the Apollo Image Gallery.

At 2025 AEST the tired astronauts finally put blinds over the windows and curled up to rest. They both decided to sleep with their helmets and gloves on, hoping there would be less noise, they would be warmer, there was less chance of breathing lunar dust, and they would not have to find somewhere to stow them.

The later missions supplied hammocks for sleeping, but not for Apollo 11, so Aldrin lay on the floor with his feet up against the side, or bent his knees, as the cabin wasn’t wide enough to stretch out. Armstrong sat on the cover of the ascent engine, leaned against the rear of the cabin, and suspended his legs through a loop of waist tether he had rigged up from a handhold. After he settled down Armstrong found there was an annoying pump gurgling somewhere near his head, and he could not avoid seeing the Earth glaring at him like a big blue and white eyeball through the Alignment Optical Telescope, so he had to get up and block the Earth light off. The window blinds did not block enough light out enough either.

After a rest period of 12 hours, both astronauts agreed they did not sleep very well. Apart from the emotional high from excitement of the day they became progressively colder, though they tried turning the suit water temperature up to maximum, then disconnecting the water flowing through their suits. Aldrin finally adjusted the temperature of the airflow through the suit and they felt better. The cabin temperature was steady at 16°C. Dr. Kenneth Biers at Houston said the data he received from Armstrong (they were not monitoring Aldrin) indicated that he may have slept fitfully and dozed, but stirred around quite a bit. Armstrong admitted he found it hard to unwind after the excitement of the day.

Bryan Sullivan in Computers remembers the end of his shift,

“For once our long car trip home that day was very quiet as we all contemplated the events of this extraordinary event.

I was still hyped on coffee and adrenalin as I arrived home. My wife’s first words to me were: ‘I was worried! What made Armstrong spring back up onto the ladder as soon as he’d put his foot on the surface? Had he seen something horrible? Did he get a fright?’ I explained that it was a safety procedure to make sure he could actually get up the ladder again in the bulky spacesuit.”



Heading Home

HSK MISSION DAY 6 Tuesday 22 July 1969
LM Liftoff : 0354 AEST only Madrid tracking
Docking : 0735 AEST Goldstone and Madrid tracking
LM Jettison : 0957 AEST only Goldstone tracking
Final Lunar Orbits, TEI burn and TEC


At 1213 USCDT on July 21 (0313 AEST 22 July) the LM astronauts were woken up by Ron Evans, the Houston Capcom with,

How is the resting standing up there? Did you get a chance to curl up on the engine can?
Aldrin: “Roger, Neil has rigged himself a really good hammock with a waist tether, and he’s been lying on the ascent engine cover, and I curled up on the floor.

After 21 hours on the lunar surface, the two lunar explorers prepared their ship for lift off. Ron Evans in Houston passed a message up: “Our guidance recommendation is PNGCS, and you’re cleared for take off.”
Aldrin: “Roger, understand, we’re No 1 on the runway.”

Right on time at 1254 USCDT July 21 (0354 AEST 22 July), the rocket engine that had to fire, fired.

“Okay, master arm on 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... abort stage, engine arm ascent, proceed. That was beautiful.
“26, 36 feet per second up. Be advised of the pitch over. Very smooth... very quiet ride....

Pushed by the 1,587 kilogram thrust of the LM ascent engine for seven minutes, the tiny spacecraft shot up into the black lunar sky, picking up speed from 48 kilometres per hour after 10 seconds to 2,890 kilometres per hour. The astronauts heard no sounds but only felt the acceleration and a high frequency vibration through their feet. As the rocket’s exhaust gases shredded the gold foil insulation and sprayed the pieces around the landing place, Aldrin looked out of the window long enough to see their flag topple over in the blast from the rocket motor.

Only Madrid was tracking the LM as it soared up into the black lunar sky.

Seconds after liftoff, the LM pitched forward about 45 degrees, and though the astronauts had anticipated it would be abrupt and maybe even a frightening manoeuvre, the harnesses securing them cushioned the tilt enough to make it barely noticeable. Both astronauts were busy with their respective tasks, Aldrin working on the computer, and Armstrong keeping track of the flight and navigation.

Evans: “Eagle, Houston. You’re go at three minutes, everything’s looking good.”
Armstrong: “Roger.”
Armstrong: “We’re going right down US one.”

With the ascent stage of the LM on its way home the two astronauts now began to feel confident that Apollo 11 was really going to make it. There had been no real surprises on the moon’s surface after all.


Up in the Command Module Collins was preparing to meet his companions with a book of 18 different procedures to rendezvous slung around his neck.

While Columbia kept a steady course 97 kilometres above the lunar surface, Eagle climbed into a 75.6 kilometres orbit and soon Collins had a radar lock on it, showing it to be 400 kilometres behind. As the Earth waited for the two spacecraft to emerge from behind the moon, it wasn’t long before Collins could see a tiny blinking light in the darkness, then as they passed over the landing site, Eagle was only 24 kilometres below, and 80 kilometres behind. As they entered into sunlight on the back side, Collins saw the blinking light slowly resolve into the LM skimming over the crater scarred surface below, but looking quite different now without the descent stage and its dangling legs. Armstrong took up a position 15 metres from Columbia and kept station. The rendezvous was over and for the first time the astronauts began to feel they were going to bring this amazing stunt off. At Honeysuckle we were beginning our SRT for the day’s track.

LM returns

“I got the Earth coming up... it’s fantastic,” shouted Collins
as he grabbed his camera to get the Moon, Earth, and returning Ascent Stage of the LM approaching him, all in one picture.

Photo courtesy of the Project Apollo Archive.

As they came around the rim of the Moon Houston was agog to know how things were going, but not wanting to interfere with the docking process: “Eagle and Columbia, Houston standing by.”

Roger, we’re station keeping,” Armstrong’s pithy response told Houston everything. All three astronauts steeled themselves for this critical moment docking the two spacecraft together again. The success of the mission; their return home; their lives, relied on switches, relays, mechanical latches, and valves all working faultlessly, complementing their own skills. The LM’s docking probe gently entered the cone, and with a satisfyingly loud thud the twelve latches slammed home to lock Eagle and Columbia together again.

Then, just as they began to feel they were safely together again, the spacecraft suddenly began jerking around, both spacecraft thrusters firing in anger. The astronauts all jumped, thinking they might be in trouble, but it was the LM and CSM automatic attitude systems competing with each other until the LM’s automatic pilot was turned off and the spacecraft quietened down to wait for the astronauts’ next instructions.

Armstrong: “Okay, we’re all yours, Columbia.
Collins: “Okay.... I’m pumping up cabin pressures.... that was a funny one. You know, I didn’t feel it strike and then I thought things were pretty steady. I went to retract there, and that’s when all hell broke loose. For you guys, did it appear to you to be that you were jerking around quite a bit during the retract cycle?"
Armstrong: “Yeah. It seemed to happen at the time I put the plus thrust to it, and apparently it wasn’t centred because somehow or other I got off in attitude and then the attitude HOLD system started firing.”
Collins: “Yeah, I was sure busy for a couple of seconds.”

They were back together again at 0735 AEST, just three minutes behind the time specified by the Flight Plan. Aldrin was first through the hatch, with a triumphant grin on his face. Collins gleefully shook his hand, then turned to the tunnel to welcome Armstrong, and an excited reunion took place, before they dragged the lunar rock bags into the Command Module, and prepared for dumping the LM.

HSK CSM Lunar Orbits  
Track Duration
29 AOS : 1119:53 AEST LOS : 1231:43
1h 11m 50s
30 AOS : 1317:45 AEST LOS : 1429:00
1h 11m 15s

Going behind the moon for the 29th time, Collins threw the right switches, and with a slight bang the LM backed off, watched sadly by Armstrong and Aldrin. Collins, though, was very pleased to see it steadily disappearing into the distance, taking all its complications with it. The Eagle would continue to circle the moon until it finally joined the other spacecraft corpses on the lunar surface.


TEC–Day 1  
Track Duration
AOS : 1506:15 AEST LOS : 2342:00
8h 35m 45s
EASEP (Prime)  
AOS : 1946:28 AEST LOS : 2145:00
1h 58m 32s

An orbit later, behind the Moon, they carefully lined up the horizon and checked they were in the right attitude before firing the SPS motor on time at 1456 AEST to set them on a safe course for home.

“Just about midnight in Houston town,” mused Armstrong nostalgically.

Honeysuckle Creek’s antenna was pointing at the edge of the moon, waiting for the first signs of a signal. In the spacecraft the astronauts saw the Earth rise above the moon’s horizon for the last time and the voice of Charlie Duke in Houston filled their earphones,

Duke: “Hello, Apollo 11, Houston. How did it go?”
Collins: “Tell them to open up the LRL (Lunar Receiving Laboratory) doors, Charlie.”
Duke: “Roger. We got you coming home. It’s well stocked.”

Audio Hear AOS as Apollo 11 rounds the Moon following the TEI burn – as recorded at Honeysuckle from Net 1.

1.1MB mp3 file runs for 3:04.

Recorded by Bernard Scrivener at Honeysuckle. Tape transferred by Mike Dinn, edited and digitised by Colin Mackellar.

As they left the Moon, the three astronauts looked back at the huge grey and tan orb suspended in front of them it was an awesome moment to realise where they were and what they had just done. They tried to use the remaining film to take as many pictures as possible of the moment. Collins, however, felt that he never wanted to return. 8,000 kilometres from the moon, the three weary space travellers were able to catch up on their sleep, turning in at about 0530 spacecraft time.

HSK MISSION DAY 7 Wednesday 23 July 1969
TEC - Day 2
Wing CSM  
Track Duration
AOS : 1148 AEST LOS : 0001 (Thursday)
12h 13m
Prime CSM  
AOS : 1322 AEST LOS : 0001 (Thursday)
10h 39m

After about eight hours rest, the astronauts were left to wake up on their own. They passed through the gravity hump between the moon and Earth eating their breakfast, 322,021 kilometres from Earth, and 62,553 kilometres from the moon. Columbia now began picking up speed as the Earth’s gravity strengthened.

There had been a major effort to try and locate exactly where Apollo 11 had landed in the Sea of Tranquillity, and they were still trying to pinpoint the position when Armstrong dropped a casual remark during a debriefing as they were returning to Earth, “I took a stroll back to a crater behind us that was maybe seventy or eighty feet in diameter and fifteen or twenty feet deep. And took some pictures of it. It had rocks in the bottom....”

That description was all the geologists needed they immediately knew the landing spot from their maps, confirmed by pictures from the 16mm sequence camera of the landing: 0° 41'15" North latitude, 23° 25'45" East longitude. If only Armstrong had mentioned that crater before!

Crescent Earth

As Columbia returned to Earth a crescent Earth filled their windows ahead.

HSK MISSION DAY 8 Thursday 24 July 1969
TEC - Day 3
Prime CSM  
Track Duration
AOS : 1155:00 AEST LOS : 1631:09
4h 36m 09s
Wing CSM  
AOS : 1159:00 AEST LOS : 1631:16
4h 32m 16s
Handover two-way to Guam at 1356  

At 0756 AEST the crew celebrated the half way point 187,000 kilometres to go. During the last evening in Houston they sent their final television session, rather a philosophical one. Part of Aldrin’s talk said:

“We have come to the conclusion that this has been far more than three men on a voyage to the moon. More still than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.”

Armstrong wound his session up with:

“.... to the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle and the little EMU, the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface. We would like to give a special thanks to all those Americans who built those spacecraft, who did the construction, design, the tests and put their their hearts and all their abilities into those craft.

To those people tonight, we give a special thankyou, and to all those people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.”

At 1217 AEST Goldstone handed over two-way tracking to Honeysuckle Creek Wing on the spacecraft omni antenna, then we handed over to Guam at 1356 before breaking track at the Prime site to go to have a look at the EASEP.

Track Duration
AOS : 1728 AEST Break Track : 0017:45
6h 49m 45s

Honeysuckle Creek broke track from Apollo 11 and crossed over to lock on to EASEP and we had a quiet period tracking a blind and dumb box before returning to the excitement of reentry.


At 2247 AEST on 24 July the astronauts woke up for their last day in space and prepared for splashdown. They had to separate from the Service Module before they came scorching into the 64 kilometres wide corridor at over 40,000 kilometres per hour. The entry corridor into the Earth’s atmosphere is extremely critical, too steep an entry would burn them up, and too shallow an entry would make them skip out into solar orbit, to be lost forever. The splashdown point was moved 398 kilometres down range because of unsuitable weather in the planned recovery area.

Paul Oats, Station Director at Carnarvon:

“When Apollo 11 came back in it did this vast swing loop back over the Indian Ocean, and we were the only people in the world who could see it for a long time.”

HSK MISSION DAY 9 Friday 25 July 1969
TEC - Day 4
Prime CSM  
Track Duration
AOS : 0047 AEST LOS : 0231:44
1h 44m 44s
Wing CSM  
AOS : 0047 AEST LOS : 0231:31
1h 44m 31s

While the Houston controllers were working around their lunch breaks, the 4.9 tonne Apollo 11 Command Module, all that remained of the original vehicle of 3,198.4 tonnes that left the Earth over eight days before, dived into the atmosphere.

Strapped to their couches the now thoughtful, subdued astronauts looked out of the spacecraft windows to see the black of space gradually turn to a shimmering orange yellow tongue of flame with bluegreen edges. It grew in intensity with the denser air, until it became an eyeball searing white, covering the entire window. The temperature of their heat shield, only inches away behind their backs, was reaching a blistering 2,800C as the ablative material roasted and streamed off into the superheated wake.

The three astronauts also began to feel the effects of gravity, gradually pressing them harder and harder until they were under six and a half times the pressure of normal gravity, which after their weightless days seemed enormous, dragging their arms down, but luckily it didn’t last long.

Right on time the small drogue parachutes whipped out and flogged around in the slipstream, before hauling the three main orange-and-white striped parachutes out, and the spacecraft began floating down through some stratocumulus clouds. To the astronauts, trying to adjust to the now heavy weight of their arms and legs, it was a pleasant welcome back to Earth to see familiar clouds and soft atmospheric haze again in contrast to the stark, sharp light of space.

SPLASHDOWN! 0251 AEST Friday 25 July 1969
Ground Elapsed Time (GET) : 195h 18m 35s  

was spotted entering some clouds from the USS Hornet nine minutes before splashdown, coming into view again, swinging gently under its three parachutes.

Twenty minutes after Honeysuckle Creek lost Apollo 11’s signal for the last time, at 1151 spacecraft time (0751 local Hawaii time) on Thursday 24 July, but 0251 the next morning at Honeysuckle Creek, the Command Module splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, just 1,530 kilometres south west of Honolulu. It had just travelled 1,534,832 kilometres in 8 days, 3 hours and 18 minutes. Gathered around the landing point to greet the three intrepid space travellers were 9,000 men in 9 ships and fifty four aircraft, spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

Apollo 11 landed just 42 seconds behind the time specified in the Flight Plan, published months before. The astronauts were placed in quarantine in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory for 11 days.

end of mission

Mission Control went wild with euphoria once the astronauts were safely on board the USS Hornet and their responsibility was over. It was specially satisfying to have met their President's deadline.

At Honeysuckle Creek it was just a happy ending and going off to a free weekend with a splashdown party to come later.

From our point of view communications were very good during this mission. Any breaks in transmission from the CSM were mainly due to the high-gain antenna alignment during spacecraft manoeuvring, fixed either by a spacecraft attitude change or switching to the omni antennas.

The real test came when the astronauts were on the Moon’s surface. The high-gain antenna on the stationary LM had no problems finding the Earth, and the telemetry from the EMUs (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) was solid as a rock throughout the EVA. The signals from the EMUs worked well even when the astronauts were out of sight of the EVA antenna on top of the LM due to good reflections from the lunar surface.

However, there were a few problems with Buzz Aldrin’s voice. Vox (voice operated transmission) was used all the time to keep the astronaut’s hands free. The EMU vox was very fast, but the series vox in the LM’s S-Band transmitter had not been set to maximum sensitivity which caused some breaks in Aldrin’s voice transmissions. He also had some problems with the placement of his microphones inside the helmet. It appears to have been displaced as he moved about. Mission Control had to ask him to talk into his microphone a couple of times. In the thin pure oxygen atmosphere and lower ambient pressure of about 3.5 psi inside the suits sound did not travel so well. It did not help that Aldrin spoke with a jerkiness and had a more inflected voice than Armstrong, which added to his vox’s difficulties.

One exchange between Capcom Charlie Duke and Aldrin went like this:

“Buzz, this is Houston. You’re cutting out on the end of your transmissions. Can you speak a little more forward into your microphone? Over”
“Roger – I’ll try that.”
“Now, I had that one inside my mouth that time.”
“It sounded a little wet!”

Other minor problems were the distant echoing of sentences of the voice relay from Earth, particularly during Nixon’s speech and the noise caused by the MSFN VOGAA (a noise suppression device [voice-operated gain-adjust device]). The LM crew complained it sounded like “somebody banging chairs around the back of the room….” and was disabled.

Communications between the orbiting CSM and the LM on the lunar surface had its own problems. Although the two spacecraft were in sight of each other for up to 23 minutes as the CSM passed over the landing site, VHF inter-vehicle frequencies only allowed about 8 minutes of contact each pass. Outside the 8 minutes in sight of the LM, Collins communicated with it via an S-Band relay through the tracking stations on Earth. This relay had a round trip delay of 3 seconds so a lot of the time a one-way S-Band link was set up for Collins to hear what was going on, but he could not talk directly to the astronauts on the surface.

With the safe return of Apollo 11, the Apollo team had met President Kennedy’s deadline. The whole concept of the Apollo mission had now been proved to work with outstanding success, which meant that exploring the Moon was now a reality, and the remaining Apollo missions could concentrate on the scientific side of the flights.

with Nixon

The three astronauts with President Nixon after the flight.

It is interesting to note that the magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology dated 4 August 1969 was still listing Apollos 18, 19, and 20, complete with landing latitude and longitude coordinates. A landing in the crater Copernicus was planned to be the Grand Finale to the Apollo Program with Apollo 20, as the walls of the crater exposed almost 6 kilometres of vertical lunar crust. One fanciful proposal was to use flying vehicles to explore terraces on the cliffs.

Now that would have been a spectacular finale.



Apollo 11 logo (at the top of this page) scanned by Hamish Lindsay and enhanced by Colin Mackellar.
Essay by Hamish Lindsay.
Images and illustrations by Hamish Lindsay and Colin Mackellar.
Audio files by Colin Mackellar.

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See also –

Apollo 11 section home page
Apollo 11 TV – section
Apollo TV stills
The Moonwalks as seen at Honeysuckle Creek’ DVDs