Moon Landing

Moon Landing

Our fascination with the moon

Humans seem to have had a fascination with the moon since the beginning of time. Being our closest neighbour in the solar system, it seems only natural that we are keen to explore the moon and learn as much as possible about it. From the 1950s, scientists were able to gain information about the moon from pictures taken by rockets as they flew past. It wasn't long after that a rocket (without people on board) was able to land on the moon to gather even more information. It was only a matter of time before people would be able to travel to the moon.

The very first moon landing has been rated as one of the most significant events in history. It was the result of many years of careful, scientific experiments and extreme human bravery at a cost of billions and billions of dollars.

Even after many years of careful preparation, there was still enormous danger involved in sending the very first men to the moon. Not only was the journey itself a leap into the unknown, but the distance of the moon from the Earth meant that, in the case of an emergency, it would take at least three days for the spacecraft to return to Earth.

Despite the incredible risks involved, in July 1969 the very first manned spacecraft took off for the moon. The spacecraft carried three American astronauts. Two of these men landed on the moon in a small detachable spacecraft called a lunar module. The third man was responsible for manning the remaining spacecraft in orbit around the moon.

How did the first men get to the moon?

The Apollo Program was the name given to the first manned missions to the moon. Apollo 11 was the name of the space capsule that carried the first men to the moon. The journey was not simply a matter of taking off in a particular direction and landing on the moon days later. The trip had to be completed in several stages.

Firstly, the three astronauts were thrust into space by a powerful type of rocket called the Saturn 5. It lifted off into the Earth's atmosphere and began orbiting the Earth. Apollo 11 was then later fired off in the direction of the moon. It took four days for Apollo 11 to reach the moon. Once the spacecraft entered the moon's orbit, the lunar module was released from the main spacecraft (or command module). The lunar module (code named 'Eagle') then slowly descended to the surface of the moon, carrying two astronauts. The command module remained in orbit around the moon.

At the end of the visit, when the astronauts were ready to leave the surface of the moon, they took off again in the lunar module. The lunar module had been designed to act as a launching pad during take-off. The bottom part of the lunar module acted as a launching pad and was then left on the moon after take-off. The lunar module later rejoined the command module back in the moon's orbit before journeying back to Earth.

Four days later the Apollo 11 spacecraft safely splashed down into the Pacific Ocean and the mission was complete.

Who were the first men on the moon?

The first lunar module landed on the surface of the moon on the 20 July, 1969. The very first man to set foot on the surface of the moon was astronaut Neil Armstrong. Shortly after he took his first steps, his fellow astronaut, Edwin Aldrin (nicknamed Buzz Aldrin), also took the historic steps onto the moon's surface. 

The third member of the Apollo 11 crew was astronaut Michael Collins. Collins remained in the command module, orbiting the Moon while Armstrong and Aldrin completed the landing.

Neil Armstrong will always be remembered for the famous words, 'That's one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind'. He uttered these words as he took his first step down from the ladder of the lunar module and onto the moon. His words describe how a simple footstep can represent a huge historical achievement for the whole of mankind. 

This first moonwalk lasted for just over two hours. During that time the astronauts collected large samples of moon rock to take back to Earth for analysis. They also erected a US flag with a special wire frame as there was no wind to hold it up. Finally, they unveiled an engraved plaque which was attached to one of the Eagle's legs. The plaque read, 'Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.'

Millions of people all over the world watched the historic event live on television. This was made possible because the module that landed on the moon contained a live TV camera. Immediately before he took his first step, Neil Armstrong pulled a cord on the module which lowered and activated the camera. A few minutes later, approximately 60 million people were able to watch history being made.

How many other astronauts have landed on the moon?

Seven Apollo missions to the moon were attempted in total. Only one of these missions, Apollo 13, was a failure. An explosion during the outward journey meant that landing on the moon was not possible. Thankfully, all the astronauts returned home safely from the unsuccessful mission.

In total, therefore, twelve men landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972. The combined time they have spent on the moon's surface is about 300 hours. Of this time, about 80 hours was spent outside the spacecraft.

Each of the Apollo spacecraft landed at different sites on the moon's surface. The first three landed close to the moon's equator. Later missions were more adventurous. They carried more fuel which allowed them to travel further to explore different areas. The last three Apollo crews were able to explore even further still. They took with them moon cars called 'lunar rovers' so they could drive around and cover greater distances.

What have we learnt by sending men to the moon?

Having astronauts visit the moon is by far the most valuable way to learn about it. By the end of December 1972, which marked the end of the Apollo missions, knowledge of the moon had increased enormously. During each trip, astronauts continued to collect rock samples, take photos and set up experiments to monitor the moon's activity.

One of the things we have learned from the collection of moon rocks is that the moon is made of minerals similar to those on Earth. These include iron, aluminium, silicon and oxygen. It is also rich in heavy elements, such as titanium. Among other things, this information has allowed scientists to develop theories about the formation of the moon and the moon's history.

The Apollo astronauts also provided the first opportunity to discover, first hand, the texture of the surface of the moon and the effects of such low gravitational force. Even though the lack of gravity was probably the most unusual feature of their experience on the moon, they reported that the dust on the surface of the moon was among the most awkward hazards they encountered. Being quite different from the dirt or dust that we know on Earth, lunar dust tends to stick together. Some astronauts reported that the dust became stuck in their space suits and the pores of their skin. It also stuck to moving parts in their vehicles and caused them added difficulties.

Another discovery of the Apollo astronauts was the incredible blackness that exists on the moon. The darkness has been described as unlike anything we know here on Earth. During orbits of the moon before landing, one Apollo crew described the dark side of the Moon as being the blackest blackness anyone could ever imagine. They reported that it was not even possible to see the surface of the moon below them.

What is the future of moon exploration?

Since the end of the Apollo missions in1972, no one has returned to the moon. As far as we know, at this time, no more trips are planned for the near future. After the last astronauts left, many of the recording stations set up on the moon remained in working order for many years. Data continued to be recorded from these stations and sent back to Earth for some time after. In about 1977, however, the stations were shut down because many were showing signs of wearing and the cost of monitoring and maintaining them was too high.

Studies of the moon have continued from Earth since the time of the first manned missions. The moon continues to be constantly monitored from space. Scientists have indicated that in the future, a full-scale manned research base on the moon is not unrealistic.