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54 Years Ago Today, Apollo 11 soars towards The Moon

We're providing daily updates from the Historic Apollo 11 mission during its 54th Anniversary. Today we retell the story of July 17th, 1969, "A day at sea" for the crew of three on their way to The Moon.

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Dakota W.

Dakota W.

Mon Jul 17 2023Written by Dakota W.

Reliving the unparalleled achievements of the Apollo 11 mission, we look back 54 years ago to July 17, 1969, when the crew embarked on their extraordinary journey to the Moon. Building on the flawless launch the day before, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins set out to etch their names in history, with a scheduled landing at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20.

Neil Armstrong, as the commander of the mission, was destined to pilot the lunar module Eagle, becoming the first human to set foot on the lunar surface. His fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, would follow in his footsteps, while Michael Collins remained in orbit aboard the command module Columbia, facilitating communication with Mission Control and ensuring the success of the mission.

The crew and their spacecraft steadily approached the Moon, their journey gradually slowed by Earth's gravity. By 11 p.m. EDT the night before, their spacecraft was cruising at less than 5,000 mph (8,000 km/h), a mere fraction of the velocity experienced during their initial departure from Earth—a testament to the intricacy of their trajectory. The attached photo, (AS11-36-5339) was taken by the crew during the early hours of their transit on 07/17/69. 

In the midst of their awe-inspiring voyage, the crew received a morning update from Mission Control, delivered over the radio. They learned of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's aspirations for a human presence on Mars by the year 2000—a bold vision that further fueled their collective determination to push the boundaries of space exploration. One that resonates deeply as we return to the Moon this decade with Artemis and look beyond to Crewed Martian Expeditions next decade and beyond.

At 12:17 p.m., Armstrong and his crew executed a brief but critical engine firing on the Columbia command module. The maneuver served a dual purpose: making a minor course correction and evaluating the engines' performance—an essential factor for subsequent maneuvers to enter and exit lunar orbit. The successful completion of this milestone instilled confidence in the crew as they continued their celestial journey.

Approximately seven hours later, the crew seized a unique opportunity to connect people worldwide with the wonders of space. They conducted a remarkable color television broadcast from their spacecraft, providing viewers with an awe-inspiring glimpse of Earth from a distance of approximately 147,300 miles (237,000 kilometers). The 36-minute program captivated audiences across the globe, igniting a sense of shared wonder and fostering a deeper appreciation for our fragile planet suspended against the backdrop of the vast cosmos.

Today, as we reflect on the profound legacy of the Apollo 11 mission, the achievements of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins continue to inspire generations. Their unwavering dedication, pioneering spirit, and relentless pursuit of knowledge have propelled humanity forward, fostering an enduring fascination with space exploration. The monumental journey of Apollo 11 stands as a testament to human ingenuity, teamwork, and the indomitable spirit of exploration. As we commemorate this historic milestone, we are reminded of the boundless potential that lies within us, urging us to reach for the stars and discover the unknown.