On Sunday, July 20, 1969, two of the three astronauts sent to the moon – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon! Their colleague Michael Collins is in orbit around the moon.
The Moon has always inspired us to watch towards the sky. Since prehistoric times, people have watched the Moon and wondered how it got up there in the sky. What is this celestial body that changes its form, disappears and then reappears every month or so and lightens the dark night. Is it a home of the Gods? Is it a giant piece of cheese hanging in the sky? Could people one day go there and have a look? This is the story of how people’s dream to venture to the Moon and come back became pure reality in recent times. This is the story about the missions Apollo that landed the first people on the Moon.
Since the dawn of our civilization, people around the world has studied the Moon. People from ancient times thought that it is a giant piece of cheese! Hundreds of years ago, people thought that it is a giant mirror that reflects the continents of our Earth. In 1865, in his novel “From Earth to the Moon”, Jule Verne describes how three astronauts travel in a capsule to the Moon, launched from Florida. This remarkable prediction became reality just a hundred years later! Until the beginning of the 20th century, people understood that fuel from Earth couldn’t burn in the vacuum of space and the only way to travel to the Moon is to use a rocket that contains in itself a depository of Earth’s air. At the beginning of the 20th century, Robert Godard from the USA, makes a prototype of the first rocket launched by rocket grade kerosene ignited when mixed with liquid oxygen. Today, rockets use the same principle to go to space, although people are already making research to alternative types of fuel.
In 1961, The Cold War reaches its culmination. The United States can’t leave Russia and its communist government to be a step forward in the race for space. In May 1961, president J.F.Kennedy says: “I believe that our country has to devote itself by the end of this decade to send a human to the Moon and to return it back safely to the Earth”. President Kennedy is assassinated 2 years later and this only inspires the Americans to make his dream true. If you want to reach the Moon, you have to think grand-scale and out of the box. In the 60s, engineers from around the Globe invented a way to send humans to space, but no one knew how to send a human, an astronaut, to the Moon and bring it back safely to Earth. The system that NASA used includes two specialized spacecrafts. One orbits the Moon and comes back to Earth – the Command – Service Module. The other, which is smaller, lands and launches from the Moon – the Lunar Module. Each of them brings with itself the exact amount of fuel and oxygen needed for its successful mission.
To launch these spacecrafts to space, you need a giant rocket monster rocket. Vernher fon Braun designed and constructed Saturn V – the largest rocket in the American space fleet. Vernher for Braun, a German rocket engineer and space architect, works also with Walt Disney on TV broadcasts about the future of Humanity in space. (You can watch a very interesting movie about the Space Race and the first years when Humanity ventured to space here.) This monstrous spacecraft is 110m high, bigger than the Statue of Liberty in NY. During its nine minutes of rising from Earth to space, Saturn V burns one and a half Olympic size swimming pools of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen. Saturn V is so powerful that it can lift 500 elephants from Earth. Although its enormous size and power, the only thing that is left from Saturn V after being to the Moon and back is the small Command Module with the three astronauts in it. Everything else is jettisoned to Earth of is left on the Moon.
I would like to tell you more about the moments before the Apollo 11 astronauts go to space. These are the countdown moments when Saturn V, the spacecrafts, the astronauts and the work of thousands of people gather in Cape Canaveral, Florida. During countdown, people from Mission Control check if all systems are go, if the rocket is functioning properly, is the weather nice and many other necessary things. The astronauts have a breakfast – a steak with eggs, they put on their space suits and head to the launch pad several hours before launch. About two and a half hours before launch, the astronauts are already in the Command – Service Module, waiting for launch. Thousands of people in Cape Canaveral and millions around the world watch the liftoff. After T minus 0, Saturn V lifts off above the launch pad above a pillar of rocket powered flames. Astronauts experience a force of 4g during their ascend to space. Many cameras are shooting the liftoff, mission control is following everything and keeps a connection with the astronauts.
To the Moon
The adventure to the Moon proceeds in 10 steps:
1. Launch – The three-stage rocket Saturn V, with the Command, Service and Lunar Modules, is being launched into Earth’s orbit from Cape Canaveral.
2. Lunar Acceleration – First and second stages of the Saturn V rocket are being jettisoned back to Earth and after one Earth orbit, the third stage engine is ignited to deliver the spacecraft to the Moon.
3. Positioning and Connecting in advance – The crew disconnects the combined Command-Service Module, turns it 180 degrees and gets the Lunar Module out of the third stage of the rocket.
4. Going into Lunar orbit – Three days later, the main engine of the Service Module decelerates the spacecraft’s speed to go into Lunar orbit. The combined spacecraft of the Command-Service Module and the Lunar Module travels to the Moon.
5. Moon Landing – The Lunar Module with the astronauts on board disconnects and lands on the Moon.
6. Launch from the Moon – After being on the Moon, astronauts go in the upper stage of the Lunar Module. It has a stage for liftoff that has its own engine that launches it from the Moon. The lower stage is left on the Moon.
7. Connection in Lunar Orbit – Liftoff stage of the Lunar Module connects with the Command – Service Module in Lunar orbit. The liftoff stage of the Lunar Module is jettisoned back to the Moon.
8. Acceleration to Earth – The Service Module main engine is ignited to bring the astronauts back to Earth.
9. Going into Earth Atmosphere – After reaching Earth’s orbit, the Command Module disconnects from the Service Module and goes into Earth’s atmosphere. It has a heat shield that protects it from the thick atmosphere of the Earth, while the Service Module is being destroyed after re- entry.
10. Landing in the Pacific Ocean on Earth – After going through Earth’s atmosphere, the Command Module opens three parachutes that soft-land him in the ocean and the crew is being taken by a carrier.
The trip to the Moon and back lasts three days in each direction. The three astronauts are attached with seat belts only during liftoff and descent. The rest of the time they spend in the Command Module where they work, eat and sleep. Space is limited in the Command Module, but the three men are in the state of weightlessness and can drift in the air flawlessly. During the trip to the moon, the astronauts use small rocket thrusters to correct the spacecraft’s trajectory.
The Moon Landing
The first Moon Landing happens on Sunday, July 20, 1969 after a dramatic landing. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin pilot the “Eagle” lander slowly to the moon’s surface, a warning signal appears that the computer is overheated. It brings the lander to a place full of big rocks, not suitable for landing. Armstrong drives the moon lander manually to a safe place 20 seconds before their fuel ends. People at Mission Control are holding breath and when they receive the good news of the successful landing, they say: “A bunch of guys are about to turn blue. Breathing again!”.
The Lunar Module
To land on the moon, you need a special spacecraft called the Lunar Module. It doesn’t have a fancy stream-lined form, because there is no air on the moon to slow it down during descent. The Lunar Module has a strange form because of the rocket engines, the fuel reservoirs and the air-tight compartment for the two astronauts. The skin of the Lunar Module is thin enough to bend under the slightest pressure. It has 2 parts. The lower one is the Descent Stage. It carries the legs for landing, the reservoirs, the systems and tools, the buggy used for transport on the surface. The second one is the Ascent Stage, It has rocket engine of its own and uses the Descent Stage as a launch pad for its liftoff from the Moon to go back to the Command-Service Module.
The last Moon landing happened nearly 50 years ago and generations of people since then thought that by now we should have reached Mars! Due to political and economical reasons, though, Humanity has stopped exploring even the Moon. Most of us think of the first Moon landing as something almost fictional that happened back in the past. Something extraordinary though! But interest is starting to appear again and there are plans by the end of this decade human foot to step on the Moon again and this time, there are plans for a permanent base there.
We are living at the dawn of a new space age where we have new and improved technology since the last times people landed on the moon. We have now more powerful computers, a better knowledge of the celestial environment and higher security systems of space exploration. Moreover, Humanity has waken up again its zeal to explore the stars and to reach new frontiers. The first moon landing in 1969, though, will always inspire us as the biggest achievement of Human kind in the 20th century.
by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 02.2014
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