Kennedy Space Center Story

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Chapter 8
1991 Edition

Man on the Moon

Apollo 11 was the mission that proved that the mobile concept, the facilities, and the equipment of the Apollo Program could do the jobs for which they had been designed.

For the first lunar landing, NASA selected three veterans of Gemini flights. Neil A. Armstrong, the only civilian member of the crew, would be the commander; Michael Collins, the command module pilot; Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., the lunar module pilot. The backup crew consisted of James Lovell commander; his Apollo 8 crewmate, William Anders, command module pilot; and Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot.

KSC began to receive Apollo 11 hardware in early January 1969, while preparing Apollos 9 and 10. The lunar module, named "Eagle" by the crew, arrived first, followed by the Apollo command and service modules which, when combined as the command/ service module, took the name "Columbia."

During March the prime and backup crews participated in testing Columbia and Eagle in the altitude chambers; docking tests were conducted in mid-April.

The space vehicle was transported to the pad on May 20. During the debriefing following the Apollo 10 mission, the crew had reported a problem encountered in flight. Insulation material came loose in the tunnel connecting the command and lunar modules and floated around inside the command module. It was decided to remove Columbia's tunnel hatch and strip the insulation.

As preparatory work moved into June, an experiment package to be placed on the Moon was checked out, along with other functional systems. A flight readiness test ran smoothly on June 6. The flight readiness review came on June 17, followed by the countdown demonstration test which began on June 27 and was completed July 2.

While launch crews worked around the clock at Complex 39, the astronauts rehearsed their mission in simulators. The crew returned to Houston for family farewells and a press briefing July 5. Dr. Berry, their physician, took no chances with infection; the astronauts faced the press through a glass window.

KSC had developed plans to cope with the increased traffic and other problems which might be associated with the anticipated tremendous influx of visitors to Brevard County to see the launch. Contingency plans were developed to work around any traffic jams; however, the snarls did not impede preparations for launch.

The countdown began at 8 p.m. on July 10, aiming for liftoff at 9:32 a.m., July 16. The schedule provided two built-in holds to permit the launch team to rest, assuming there were no hardware problems requiring immediate resolution.

Early in the evening of July 14, the astronauts sat in front of television cameras in the KSC News Center while 12 miles (19 kilometers) away a panel of reporters quizzed them for half an hour. Walter Cronkite of CBS represented the networks; Al Rossiter, UPI, the wire services; Everett Clark, Newsweek, the periodicals; and Joel Shurkin, Reuters, the foreign press.

During the night of July 15, the pad area and Apollo 11 were brilliantly illuminated by xenon lights. The crawler lumbered up the pad incline, picked up the mobile service structure and carried it to a parking area a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. The rocket was AS-506, indicating the sixth Saturn V vehicle. It carried command/service module 107 and lunar module 5.

Awakened at 4:15 a.m. on July 16, the astronauts breakfasted on orange juice, steak, scrambled eggs, toast and coffee, then began suiting up at 5:35 a.m. They departed for the pad at 6:28 a.m., arriving after fueling operations had been completed. Armstrong entered the Apollo at 6:45 a.m., assisted by the six-man pad close-out crew under the direction of Rockwell International's Guenter Wendt and NASA's Spacecraft Test Conductor "Skip" Chauvin. Collins joined Armstrong five minutes later, sliding into the right couch. He was followed by Aldrin, who climbed into the center seat. Before leaving the pad at 8:32 a.m., the close-out crew shut the hatch, pressurized the cabin to check for leaks, and purged it.

Three and a half miles (5.6 kilometers) away, in the Launch Control Center, the 463-person Apollo launch team monitored the final minutes of the countdown. Launch Director Rocco Petrone directed the operation from his command station in "management decision row" which looked out over row upon row of flashing consoles and recording racks manned by engineers and technicians from the space agency and its major Apollo contractors--Boeing, Rockwell International, McDonnell Douglas, IBM. General Electric, Grumman, Rocketdyne and Aerojet General. Seated alongside Petrone were Dr. Debus, KSC's director: Dr. Hans Gruene, the Center's director of Saturn V operations; and Dr. George Low, Apollo program manager for the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Observing the countdown procedures were NASA Administrator Dr. Thomas O. Paine and other high-level NASA officials, including Dr. George Mueller, associate NASA administrator; Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, NASA's Apollo program chief; and Dr. Wernher von Braun, father of the Saturn V rocket and director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

On the first floor of the Launch Control Center, technical support personnel manned consoles monitoring propellant flow, life support, and other ground systems.

Five miles (eight kilometers) south in the Industrial Area. two Acceptance Checkout Equipment stations manned by General Electric Co. personnel in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building monitored Columbia and Eagle.

Engineers in the nearby Central Instrumentation Facility recorded measurements from the Saturn V and monitored the intricate communications network tying together all the operating stations.

Over the past dozen hours or so, the launch team had checked off thousands of items from the three-inch (7.6-centimeter) thick countdown manual, the bible of Saturn launch operations. The huge launch status board showed all green. Two minor equipment problems, a leaky valve and a faulty signal light, had been corrected while the astronauts were en route to the pad.

Wednesday, July 16, was a beautiful morning -- bright sunshine, a few fleecy clouds and a slight wind from the southeast. By 9 a.m. it was very warm. Five thousand guests were gathered at the viewing site north of the VAB, Among them were Vice President and Mrs. Spiro Agnew, former President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren, the Archbishop of New York Cardinal Terence Cooke, aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, writer William F. Buckley, television personalities Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, and comedian Jack Benny. Also in the crowd were 33 U.S. senators, 206 congressmen, 56 ambassadors, and the secretaries of health, education and welfare; commerce; transportation; and interior.

Close by was the press corps, more than 1,700 strong, representing 56 nations, including three Communist countries. Thousands of NASA civil service and contractor employees and their families lined the perimeter roads of the complex. And miles away, jamming the riverfronts, beaches and highway approaches to the Space Center, were an estimated one million visitors, possibly the largest crowd in history to witness a single launch.

About 2,600 feet (792 meters) from the launch pad, protected by a sand bunker, 14 rescue personnel stood watch as usual for manned Apollo launches. Equipped with armored personnel carriers and wearing flame protection gear, they could quickly assist the astronauts in an emergency. Manning special roadblocks surrounding the complex were teams of doctors, nurses, safety officials, ordnance experts and recovery specialists-prepared to spring into action if the Saturn V exploded on the pad. Loaded with nearly 3,000 tons (2,722 metric tons) of volatile fuel, an exploding Moon rocket would shatter with a force equivalent to 1.2 million pounds (544,300 kilograms) of TNT.

High in the Apollo command module, the astronauts gripped the armrests of their couches, ready, if necessary, to trigger the launch escape tower atop Apollo which would pull them free of the rocket and parachute them back to the ground some distance from the pad. Firemen and medical specialists would speed to the scene in moments aboard helicopters and amphibious vehicles.

The Apollo access arm was retracted at 9:27 a.m., or T minus 5 minutes in the count. At 4 minutes the "cleared for launch" command was given. The countdown became automatic at 3 minutes, 20 seconds. Apollo 11 lifted off at 9:32 a.m. EDT.

Apollo 11 attained Earth orbit 11 minutes and 49 seconds after liftoff. Cleared to proceed to the Moon, the astronauts fired the third stage engine again at 12:22 p.m., increasing the velocity to 24,000 miles (38,600 kilometers) per hour. Collins then separated Columbia, turned it around and docked with Eagle. During the third day, Armstrong and Aldrin removed the docking probe and drogue and opened the tunnel hatch. They entered the Eagle to perform housekeeping chores and check the equipment. Their activities were seen on television by millions of people in the United States, Japan, South America, Canada, and Western Europe. The same day, the astronauts entered lunar orbit.

On July 20. Armstrong and Aldrin again occupied Eagle, powered it up and deployed its landing legs. Eagle and Columbia separated at 1:46 p.m. Armstrong and Aldrin fired Eagle's descent engine at 3:08 p.m. Forty minutes later, as Columbia emerged from behind the Moon, Collins reported what had occurred, commenting, "Everything's going just swimmingly."

As the moonscape came into clearer view, Armstrong saw that Eagle was approaching a crater almost as large as a football field. He took over manual control and steered toward a less formidable site. At Mission Control, physicians noted his heartbeat increasing from a normal 77 to 156 beats per minute. While Armstrong manipulated the controls, Aldrin called out altitude readings, ending with "... contact light ... O.K. Engine stop." As the probes beneath three of Eagle's four footpads touched the surface, a light flashed on the instrument panel. The world heard Armstrong's quiet message.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Later the crew explained that while some distance from the surface, fine dust blew up around the spacecraft and obscured their vision. However, they felt no sensation at the moment of landing.

At 6 p.m., Armstrong called Mission Control to recommend that the walk on the Moon begin about 9 p.m., earlier than originally planned. However, it was 10:39 when Armstrong opened the hatch and squeezed through it--still five hours ahead of schedule. He wore 84 pounds (38 kilograms) of equipment on his back, containing his portable life support and communications systems. On the Moon the weight was 14 pounds (6.35 kilograms).

Armstrong proceeded cautiously down the nine-step ladder. He paused at the second step to pull a ring which deployed a television camera, mounted to follow his movements as he climbed down. At 10:56 p.m. Armstrong planted his left foot on the Moon, saying as he did: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind."

Later as he described the powdery lunar surface material and collected soil samples, he remarked, "It has a beauty all its own. It's like much of the high desert in the United States."

Aldrin emerged from Eagle and joined Armstrong at 11:11 p.m. For the next two hours they collected rock samples, set up scientific apparatus, erected an American flag, took pictures and loped easily across the surface while an estimated 600 million Earth viewers watched via television.

Having completed their assigned tasks, the astronauts re-entered Eagle on instructions from Mission Control, closing the hatch at 1:11 a.m., July 21. They tried to rest but could not. The lunar module was cold and noisy. At 1:45 p.m., July 21, having spent 22 hours on the lunar surface, Aldrin counted down and fired the ascent stage engine, which functioned perfectly. They docked with Columbia and rejoined Collins at 5:35 p.m. Collins touched off the Apollo main engine at 12:55 a.m., July 22, while in the Moon's dark side.  Columbia headed home.  The spacecraft's splashdown site was changed due to stormy seas.  The astronauts adjusted their course to a new site 270 miles (435 kilometers) away, hitting the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT, July 24.  President Richard M. Nixon and NASA Administrator Paine were on the aircraft carrier to greet them.

The astronauts climbed into a mobile isolation trailer aboard ship. They remained inside the trailer while being transported to Houston by ship, airplane and truck. After their arrival in Houston, they entered quarantine in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory as a safeguard against bringing any possible hostile organisms back to Earth. Quarantine ended Aug. 12.

The Apollo program had achieved its objective five months and 10 days before the end of the decade. 

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