Though July 20, 1969 is remembered as the famous day men first stepped foot on the moon, the Apollo 11 mission actually launched long before.
The decision to put a man on the moon and return him to Earth had been years in the making. But, when the Apollo 11 mission took off it had only been seven months since NASA made the decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the Saturn V rocket, according to NASA.
On the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sat atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket would use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space, according to NASA.
At 9:32 a.m., the engines fired and Apollo 11 cleared the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew was orbiting Earth, according to NASA.
It had been just seven months since NASA’s made the decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the Saturn V rocket.
Armstrong would later describe the decision to send Apollo 8 to orbit the moon and later Apollo 11 to land on it as an “incredibly aggressive” strategy.”
“We were very excited about it,” Armstrong said in 2001. “We thought it was very bold.”
After one and a half orbits around the Earth, the Apollo 11 crew received a “go” from mission control called “Translunar Injection.” It was time for the astronauts to head for the moon.
Three days after getting the clear to head to the moon, the Apollo 11 crew was in lunar orbit, according to NASA. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module Eagle and began the descent, while Collins continued to orbit in the crew’s command module, the Columbia.
On the day of the launch, it had been around eight years since former president John F. Kennedy had declared that the U.S. would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
Kennedy had called for “longer strides” which “may hold the key to our future here on Earth.” He touted the potential of “even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself,” according to NASA.
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