Just a few weeks before I delivered the famous speech I referred to in the previous note, Kennedy had been in Huntsville, Alabama, where engineer Wernher Von Braun and his team were testing with the new rocket family called Saturn. The potential deployed in a test launch had convinced Kennedy that this was the way forward. A staged rocket
Until that time there was no certainty as to what was the best method to go to the moon. The so-called “direct shot” needed a large vector that could take off and take the astronauts directly to the moon, but once there the ship would be too big and heavy to work and then return to the Tierra.La Braun solution was a rocket in stages that carried within it two smaller ships: the command module, which would be the main ship where three astronauts would travel, and the lunar module, which would serve to carry two others and eventually land.
Wernher von Braun
Once the mission was complete, the lunar module would take off from the surface, leading its occupants into lunar orbit, where their companion would wait in the command module; the two ships would then dock so that the entire crew would meet in the command module and thus undertake the return to the Tierra.La rendezvous maneuver and dock into lunar orbit was heavily resisted by NASA engineers, as it involved precisely controlling do were moving at an average speed of 28,000 km/h and performing a coupling maneuver nearly 400,000 kilometers away from Earth. However, it was this option that allowed to generate a small and maneuverable lunar module and thus make possible the feat that was desired to be realized. The Gemini program and the failed beginnings of Apollo
Between 1965 and 1966 the Gemini program began: a series of ten manned flights on two-seat ships intended for orbital maneuver testing, encounters with other ships and couplings with passive objectives. At the same time, it served to test the human endurance and that of its suits on spacewalks. Perhaps the Gemini program was not as widespread by the press but its achievements were really significant so that the Apollo program could finally take place. In fact, many of the astronauts who participated in the Apollo missions were veterans of the Gemini program.Apollo did not start in the best way. In January 1967, astronauts Virgil Grisson, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were preparing for a test mission, which would consist of staying in Earth orbit for two weeks. They were inside the capsule, with their spacesuits on and the atmosphere pressurized with pure oxygen, when a spark in a cable shaved inside the cockpit caused a rapid and voracious fire that ended up killing them. The terrible accident prompted a redesign of the Apollo ship and spacesuits. First successes
Overcoming the serious misstep, the Apollo missions found their first successes in the unmanned missions in which the great Saturn V rocket was tested, the 111-meter-high vector that remains, to this day, the largest and most powerful in history. As early as 1968, the Apollo 7 and 8 manned missions completed certifying the command module as a ship fit and ready to fly to the Moon: Apollo 8 astronauts (Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders) were the first humans to orbit the Moon.
During the first part of 1969, the Apollo 9 and 10 missions would test the lunar module in Earth orbit and lunar orbit respectively. Finally: Apollo 11
Responsibility for the first manned lunar descent would rest with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. All three were veterans of a spaceflight in the Gemini program, were about the same age (40 years) and, interestingly, weighed and measured the same (74 kg and 1.79 mts.). Apollo 11’s mission was aimed at a region of the Moon called the Sea of Tranquility, selected as a large plain and being located at the lunar equator, the area where orbital maneuvers would be easier for both the landing and an even Emergency return to Earth.After several weeks of deliberations, the launch of Apollo 11 was set for July 16, 1969. On that day, at 13.32 (UTC; local time was 9.32), Saturn V rose roaring from Cape Canaveral’s 39A platform in front of more than a million people stationed nearby. Meanwhile, at the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, they were already taking control of the ship. The journey
After the Earth’s orbit and just over three hours of flight, the command module, dubbed Columbia, was separated from the third stage of Saturn V (the previous two had already been discarded in the previous phases) turned 180 degrees and coupled to the module the lunar Eagle to take him out of there and begin the three-day journey to the Moon.The journey passed in absolute normality and routine, barely broken by the news of an unmanned Soviet probe, who traveled almost on par with Apollo 11 in order to descend on the Moon. The space race was literally that: a race. Arriving in lunar orbit, astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin moved to the lunar eagle module, decoupled from Columbia – where Collins would wait for them until their return – and began the descent maneuver propelled towards the designated point of the Sea of the Tranquility.During the descent, several times it thundered inside the lunar module the alarm of the on-board computer that marked a data overload. While the problem was not serious, it was a distraction for astronauts and mission controllers in Houston, causing them to pass slightly over the fixed point. Slightly, yes, but enough to fly over an unwanted area of large rocks. The landing
In the last few seconds, Armstrong, making use of his cold-blooded fame, took manual control of the Eagle and managed to land the module in a safe area, while all contained their breathing. A blue light was lit on the lunar module board: it was the one indicating that the leg sensors were touching the lunar surface. The engine went out and eventually the Eagle landed on the lunar surface with two men inside. On Sunday, July 20, 1969, at 20:17 (UTC), the human being had achieved the impossible: reaching the moon.
—Contact light. Engine off, Buzz Aldrin said.
“This is Base Tranquility, the Eagle has joined,” Armstrong replied.
It would be a long time before the astronauts could go out on the lunar surface, not only because all the rigor checks had to be done and the costumes prepared, but because the astronauts deserved a break. At 2:56 (UTC) on July 21, Neil Armstrong descended from the lunar module and barely set foot outside the base of the paw, said his famously famous phrase: “This is a small step for a man, but a gigantic leap for humanity.” The walk barely lasted two and a half hours, enough to take just over 20 kilos of lunar rocks and leave a few scientific instruments in place. To this day, man’s arrival on the Moon remains humanity’s greatest feat in times of peace. If you want to read more:History of a feat (I)History of a feat (III)*Bachelor in Journalism and Social Communication. Specialist in the history of manned spaceflight, interplanetary probes and space technology. In this note: