On this day 54 years ago, history was created. To this day there are many discussions over the moon landing. This has created a buzz and kept Apollo 11's trip alive. While the landing was a massive feat, it isn't the starting point nor Ohio's first dealings with flying into outer space. While we are celebrating the landing, let's review what made July 20th, 1969 journey possible.
35th President, John F. Kennedy created a challenge that the US would not only beat the Soviets to the moon but would also complete the task before the end of the decade. To quote President Kennedy:
"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."
The Soviet Union would pull ahead of Kennedy's challenge by being the first to send a man into outer space (Yuri A. Gagarin in Vostok Spaceship). To combat this, America created its project: Project Mercury which would successfully send Astronaut John H. Glenn to orbit Earth during a three-orbit Mercury-Atlas mission 6. Ohioan John Glenn was aboard Friendship 7, the name John gave it. This trip took place on February 20, 1962; ironically exactly 7 years and 5 months before the moon landing date. While this was not a trip to the moon, it did lead to important astrophysics discoveries that would contribute to the success of the moon trips.
The first test run flight of a spacecraft was completed. The unmanned Apollo CM-009 was testing Saturn-IB rocket capabilities, integration of components, Apollo's service module's main engine, and the effectiveness of command module's heat shield. The test flight was declared successful after its 37 minute flight. The importance was creating a space vehicle that had structural integrity.
A tragic failure and setback occurred. Three astronauts on AS-204 were killed from a cabin fire. Command Pilot, Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee lost their lives at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. From this tragedy, NASA delayed work for 20 months to investigate and make improvements for future spacecrafts. After reports, the below were changed:
The cabin was change to have 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen at sea level pressure to start that would gradually fall to 0% nitrogen.
Pressure in astronaut's suits was not changed to prevent decompression sickness.
Nylon fabric in suits were changed to Beta cloth (non-flammable, highly melt-resistant fabric).
Redesigned hatch that opened outward and within 5 seconds, by using a cartridge of pressurized nitrogen.
Flammable materials inside the cabin were replaced with self-extinguishing versions.
Plumbing and wiring were covered with protective insulation. Introduced stainless steel tubing with brazed joints.
Thorough protocols were implemented for documenting construction and maintenance.
From AS-204 catastrophe, NASA not only created a safer vessel for flight but also renamed the crafts to Apollo, the name the three Astronauts gave. As a sign of respect, NASA next spacecraft was called Apollo 4, not using Apollo 2 nor Apollo 3 for the fallen men.
Apollo 7, the 1st manned mission successfully orbited the Earth and tested several sophisticated systems that were required to complete traveling and landing on the moon. Those aboard Apollo 7 were Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Command Module Pilot Donn F. Eisele, and Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham.
Apollo 8 successfully traveled around the far side of the moon and back to Earth. Apollo 8's astronauts were: Commander Frank F. Borman II, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders.
Apollo 9 crew tested and completed the first lunar module docking in space. The astronauts that established this milestone were: Commander James A. McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David R. Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Russell L. Schweickart.
Apollo 10 did a dry run, traveling around the moon that helped the scheduling of the moon landing in July. The crew was made up of: Commander Thomas P. Stafford, Command Module Pilot John W. Young, and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene A. Cernan.
All the small bits added up to the big moment of accomplishing President Kennedy's goal- landing on the moon before the end of the 1960's. July 16, 1969 at 9:32 am Apollo 11 took off for its journey with Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin 'Buzz' E. Aldrin, Jr. On July 20, 1969 at 4:17 pm the Eagle (Lunar Module name) touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility where Armstrong radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas "The Eagle has landed."
With Armstrong and Aldrin 5 hours ahead of schedule, they made a broadcast for all Americans to see where Armstrong planted his foot on the surface of the moon. Armstrong said that his message was jumbled from the microphone and what he really said was "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin joined him after Armstrong's statement to take photographs of the moon and to have one of the most historical telephone calls with 37th President Richard Nixon. Before leaving to head back to Earth, Aldrin and Armstrong left a plaque on the moon that reads:
"Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon—July 1969 A.D.—We came in peace for all mankind."
The Supporting Efforts
To make Apollo 11 and the July 1969 landing complete, it took a lot of people and funding. The total of the Apollo program was roughly 24 billion dollar; in 2023 would amount to around $199,526,321,525.89. To be successful, the project was also labor intensive with an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists. If you would like to better understand the hard, important, stressful work that was behind the scenes, a great movie to watch would be "Hidden Figures" which discusses work that was done around 1962 and support John Glenn received.
The connection point of the moon and Ohio has a direct line by Glenn and Armstrong. In the local area, we celebrate Neil Armstrong as his hometown of Wapakoneta is right around the corner. Since July 20, 1972 the Armstrong Air & Space Museum has been opened to welcome all wanting to learn about aviation and space exploration. The Armstrong museum does an annual Moon Festival full of fun and educational activities, with this year being no different. If you are interested, it would be worth your trip to visit the Moon Festival July 18th-23rd (click to visit the Moon Festival website). If you are unable to check out the Moon Festival, you may also like to review the museum's website or take a trip to the Armstrong Air & Space museum located at 500 Apollo Drive, Wapakoneta OH.