16 25 July 1969
by Hamish Lindsay
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 hadnt 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 Armstrong Commander
Lunar Module Pilot
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 Shepards 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 spacecrafts 26 subsystems.
NASAs 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:
The temporary tower at Honeysuckle to relay the TV is seen at right. Photo: Hamish Lindsay. More details here.
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.
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,
|LAUNCH||Wednesday 16 July 1969|
|Launch time : 2332 AEST (0932 USEDT)|
The crew head for the launch pad.
In the White Room at the top of the
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 11s 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 rockets 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 heads
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||
|AOS : 0032:32 AEST||LOS : 0037:05||
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.
ITS GO FOR THE MOON
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.
|TLC Day 1||
|AOS : 0957 AEST||LOS : 2045||
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 LMs flimsy aluminium skin was so thin it rippled to the bursts of gas from the Command Modules 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||
|AOS : 1037 AEST||LOS : 2047||
At the Wing site at Tidbinbilla the staff were all settled down and looking forward to their key role tracking the LM on the moons 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 weeks work to repair it. But there wasnt a week left.
Station Director at Tidbinbilla, Don Gray,
At Tidbinbilla: Don Gray and Alan Blake.
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,
At Tidbinbilla: Ted Wilcox, Ken Cox, Geoff Rose were key members of the team who worked to get the Wing back on air.
Keith Aldworth from Tidbinbilla adds:
|HSK MISSION DAY 3||Saturday 19 July 1969|
|TLC Day 3||
|AOS : 1020 AEST||LOS : 2102||
The spacecraft crew were now well settled into a ships 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 spacecrafts attitude.
|HSK MISSION DAY 4||Sunday 20 July 1969|
|Lunar Orbit Insertion and Lunar Orbits||
|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||
|4 AOS : 1048:00||LOS : 1314:01||
|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.
INTO LUNAR ORBIT
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.
Capcom Bruce McCandless at his console in the MOCR, around the time of TLI.
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.
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 days 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:
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 nights 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 didnt 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|
|HSK Prime LM|
|AOS : 1112:00||LOS : 2202:00||
|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 Teams 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 Lunneys shift briefed Kranzs 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.
Kranz set himself up at the Flight Directors 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.
The view through the LMs window.
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 LMs 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.
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, were out on our radial velocity; were 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 gyros 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.
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 astronauts 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 moons 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 couldnt do all the tasks in the time available.
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: Its executive overflow; if it does not occur again, were fine.
26 year old Steve Bales recalled that fateful moment:
One of the alarms was a DP00 which meant the LMs 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 moons 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:
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.
Altitude 2,800 metres.
Now the LM began to drop its legs to point down to the moons surface, and the astronauts could see the moons 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 spacecrafts 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.
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.
In Mission Control Kranz queried Bales again: 1201
Bales had already been onto Garman: Same type, were GO, Flight.
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.
Armstrong was riveted to his controls:
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 wasnt 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 LMs 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 werent 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:
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 Armstrongs throttle control positions and
was frantically mentally calculating his fuel usage to the amount of fuel
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: 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.
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
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:
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.
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,
The sudden pain was enough for him to regain control and coolly announce, All right, everybody settle down, and lets get ready for a T+1 STAY/NO STAY.
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.
|Gene Kranz (centre) in the Flight Director’s seat during the Apollo 11 mission.|
WHERE HAD THEY LANDED?
But where had they landed? Nobody was sure. It wasnt 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 Houstons 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 wasnt 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:
ARMSTRONG DECIDES ON AN EARLY EVA.
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 werent 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.
MISSION CONTROL, PARKES AND HONEYSUCKLE CREEK GET READY FOR THE FIRST LUNAR EVA.
As I was on the night shift it was my job to get the equipment
ready for Frank Campbell to support the days momentous events.
Goldstone would be tracking two-way with the LM on the Moons 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 days
events and went into the H-30 count, ready for an 1112 acquisition.
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 winters 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.
At 1112 AEST the Moon rose above the gum-tree clad mountains to the east beside Deadmans 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
From the Super 8 movie by Ed von Renouard, Monday 21 July 1969.
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 doesnt 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 CSIROs 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 historys 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 LMs 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 LMs 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:
Kevin Gallegos, who was working on the Data Demodulators (SDDS) using an oscilloscope to watch the images (in phosphor green) remembered:
Kevin Gallegos at SDDS
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 LMs 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,
By the time Honeysuckle Creek had locked on to the LMs
signal the astronauts were nearly ready to open the hatch.
At 1139 AEST, 27 minutes after we had acquired the LMs signal, Aldrin reached for the handle to open the hatch.
The hatch stayed stubbornly shut as there was still some pressure in the LMs 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
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:
A mockup of the MESA with the camera mounted upside
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
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.
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:
Ed von Renouard, the television technician at Honeysuckle Creek:
McCandless: Okay, Neil, we can see you coming down
the ladder now.
Neil Armstrong descends the ladder. GET 109:22:40
Photo taken from the video console at Honeysuckle Creek.
THAT FIRST STEP ON THE MOONS SURFACE
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 Armstrongs legs carefully
seeking each rung of the LMs ladder.
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, Were getting a picture on the TV!
Its 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 LMs 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 LMs dish-shaped footpad
and to check he could still get back on the ladder immediately jumped back
up. With the Moons gravity it was no problem, so Armstrong returned
to the footpad and looked down at the surface.
Neil Armstrong on the footpad, about to
step onto the surface.
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:
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.
The monitor on the scan converter at Honeysuckle
This is the monitor directly in front of
Ed von Renouard in the photo below.
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 Armstrongs momentous step onto the lunar surface.
After Armstrong prepared deploying the camera equipment:
After some discussion on cameras Armstrong said,
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:
Honeysuckles 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.
Tom Reid, Honeysuckle Creek Station Director:
Eight minutes after the television was switched on, the CSIROs 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 LMs 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:
Within 14 minutes, at 1310 AEST, Aldrin began backing cautiously out of the LMs hatch.
Buzz backing out of the hatch of the LM.
Aldrin worked his way down the ladder and jumped onto the LMs footpad. He also tried to leap back onto the ladder, but missed the bottom rung by about two centimetres, so tried again...
FIRST WALK IN ANOTHER WORLD
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.
The equipment on their backs had weighed 38 kilograms on Earth, but on the Moon they were only 6.3 kilograms.
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 didnt pull it over.
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 LMs
steps and unveiled a small plaque to commemorate the historic
landing mounted on a strut between the third and fourth rungs of the ladder.
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. Armstrongs voice was coming through loud and clear through Goldstone. The President said:
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:
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 Aldrin working at the MESA.
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
One of the rare pictures of Armstrong, here working
at the LM.
An important part of the Apollo missions was to leave a scientific package on the moons surface for the tracking stations on Earth to monitor the conditions around the landing site after the astronauts left. Apollo 11s 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 moons
seismic activity, and a laser beam reflector for accurately measuring the
distance between the Earth and moon. Carnarvons 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.
BACK TO THE LUNAR MODULE
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 LMs interior.
Their first chore was to pressurise the LMs cabin and to begin stowing the rock boxes, film magazines, and anything else they wouldnt 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,
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.
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.
Back inside Eagle, Neil and Buzz take each other’s photograph after their successful 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 wasnt 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,
|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,
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 youre cleared
for take off.
Aldrin: Roger, understand, were 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.
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 rockets 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.
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 moons surface after all.
EAGLE RETURNS TO COLUMBIA
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 wasnt 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 days track.
I got the Earth coming up... its
fantastic, shouted Collins
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, were station keeping, Armstrongs 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 LMs 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 LMs automatic pilot was turned off and the spacecraft quietened down to wait for the astronauts next instructions.
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||
|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.
|AOS : 1506:15 AEST||LOS : 2342:00||
8h 35m 45s
|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 Creeks 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 moons horizon for the last time and the voice of Charlie Duke in Houston filled their earphones,
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|
|AOS : 1148 AEST||LOS : 0001 (Thursday)||
|AOS : 1322 AEST||LOS : 0001 (Thursday)||
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 Earths 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
As Columbia returned to Earth a crescent Earth filled their windows ahead.
|HSK MISSION DAY 8||Thursday 24 July 1969|
|TEC - Day 3|
|AOS : 1155:00 AEST||LOS : 1631:09||
4h 36m 09s
|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 Aldrins talk said:
Armstrong wound his session up with:
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.
|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 Earths 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:
|HSK MISSION DAY 9||Friday 25 July 1969|
|TEC - Day 4|
|AOS : 0047 AEST||LOS : 0231:44||
1h 44m 44s
|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 2,800°C 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 didnt 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|
Columbia 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 11s 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.
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 Moons 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 Aldrins voice. Vox (voice operated transmission) was used all the time to keep the astronauts hands free. The EMU vox was very fast, but the series vox in the LMs S-Band transmitter had not been set to maximum sensitivity which caused some breaks in Aldrins 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 voxs difficulties.
One exchange between Capcom Charlie Duke and Aldrin went like this:
Other minor problems were the distant echoing of sentences of the voice relay from Earth, particularly during Nixons 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 Kennedys 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.
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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