To the Moon and Beyond

Space Centre Houston
Space Centre Houston

To the Moon and Beyond! Do they have cupcakes on the Moon?

To the Moon and Beyond

Ummm, I don’t think so…

To the Moon and Beyond

Why not? They went there with a really big rocket.

To the Moon and Beyond

Well, they lost most of it along the way… They left Earth with a 111m rocket, 18m taller than the Statue of Liberty, and they reached the Moon’s orbit with an 18m rocket! Then they landed on the Moon in a 7m high Lunar Module. See, it’s tiny! No room for cupcakes 🙂

To the Moon and Beyond

The Saturn V was a human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA between 1966 and 1973. The Saturn V rockets used for the Apollo missions had three stages. Each stage would burn its engines until it was out of fuel and would then separate from the rocket. The engines on the next stage would fire, and the rocket would continue into space. The first stage had the most powerful engines, since it had the challenging task of lifting the fully fueled rocket off the ground. The first stage lifted the rocket to an altitude of about 68 kilometers. The second stage carried it from there almost into orbit. The third stage placed the Apollo spacecraft into Earth orbit and pushed it toward the moon. The first two stages fell into the ocean after separation. The third stage either stayed in space or hit the moon.

The Apollo spacecraft that reached the Moon orbit consisted of the Apollo Command and Service Modules and the Lunar Module. The Lunar Module was enclosed in and protected by the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adaptor during launch.

Apollo Spacecraft - Command and Service Module and Lunar Module
Apollo Spacecraft – Command and Service Module and Lunar Module
Apollo/Saturn V Centre
Apollo Command and Service Modules Model at Apollo/Saturn V Centre, Kennedy Space Centre
Saturn V on display in the Apollo / Saturn V Centre, Kennedy Space Centre
Saturn V on display in the Apollo / Saturn V Centre, Kennedy Space Centre

The Command Module (CM) was the only Apollo / Saturn V component to return to earth. Functioning as a cockpit, office, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, the CM was home to the three astronauts except when two of the crew members visited the Moon in the Lunar Module. The CM was constructed by North American Rockwell.

The Launch Escape System (LES) at the tip of the Apollo / Saturn V was designed to separate the CM from the rest of the rocket in the event of a launch emergency. It was jettisoned approximately 30 seconds after ignition of the S-II stage.

The Service Module (SM) provided the Command Module with essential supplies such as oxygen, water, fuel and electricity. The SM also acted as the CM’s primary source of propulsion and was responsible for placing the spacecraft into lunar orbit as well as thrusting it back toward Earth at the end of the mission, before being cast off and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere before the Command Module re-entered and brought the crew home.

Built by North American Rockwell, the Service Module was basically an aluminium cylinder that enclosed a compact labyrinth of tanks, fuel cells and cables. The CM and SM were joined for most of the lunar voyage and were referred to collectively as the Command and Service Module (CSM).

Apollo 15 Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. NASA
Apollo 15 Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. NASA Photograph

The Lunar Module (LM) was the lander portion of the Apollo spacecraft built to carry a crew of two from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back. Designed for lunar orbit rendezvous, it consisted of an ascent stage and descent stage, and was ferried to lunar orbit by its companion Command and Service Module (CSM). After completing its mission, the LM was discarded. It was capable of operation only in outer space; structurally and aerodynamically it was incapable of flight through the Earth’s atmosphere. The Lunar Module was the first, and to date only, manned spacecraft to operate exclusively in the airless vacuum of space.

Apollo Lunar Module no 2
Apollo Lunar Module no 2, National Air & Space Museum

Forty-seven years ago on July 20 (or July 21 in other parts of the world) the world stopped for a brief instant to witness a remarkable accomplishment, the first instance in which humanity set foot on another body in our solar system.

Launch of Apollo 11. NASA Photo.
Launch of Apollo 11. NASA Photograph

When the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off on July 16, 1969, for the Moon, it signaled a climactic instance in human history. Reaching the Moon on July 20, its Lunar Module — with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard — landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo 11 command module Columbia. Armstrong soon set foot on the surface, telling millions on Earth that it was “one small step for man — one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed him out and the two planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the US as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they returned to the Apollo capsule overhead and returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.

View of a lunar module against the blackness of space. This image was taken during separation of the lunar module and the command module during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA Photo.
View of a lunar module against the blackness of space. This image was taken during separation of the lunar module and the command module during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA Photograph

As commander of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong took most of the photographs from the historic moonwalk, but this rare shot from fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin shows Armstrong at work near the lunar module Eagle.

Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. As commander of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong took most of the photographs from the historic moonwalk, but this rare shot from fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin shows Armstrong at work near the lunar module Eagle.
Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. NASA Photograph
Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, descends the steps of the Lunar Module (LM) ladder as he prepares to walk on the Moon.
Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, descends the steps of the Lunar Module (LM) ladder as he prepares to walk on the Moon. NASA Photograph
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, took this photograph of Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on July 20, 1969. NASA Photograph
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Commander of Apollo 11, took this photograph of Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969. NASA Photograph
 Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA Photograph.
Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA Photograph.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA). NASA Photograph.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA). NASA engineers designed the Moon flag, and all subsequent ones, with a horizontal bar that allowed them to “fly” without the benefit of a breeze. NASA Photograph
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 Commander inside the Lunar Module LM as it rests on the lunar surface after completion of the Extravehicular Activities EVA.
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 Commander inside the Lunar Module LM as it rests on the lunar surface after completion of the Extravehicular Activities EVA. NASA Photograph

The Command Module Columbia splashed down in the Pacific on July 24, about 24 kilometres from USS Hornet, the prime recovery ship.

The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments.
The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments. NASA Photograph

When an Apollo Command Module landed in the ocean, it could settle into one of two stable positions: nose up or nose down. Landing nose down left its recovery antennas underwater and increased the possibility that the spacecraft might flood. To turn the module upright, three inflatable bags were installed in a forward compartment. In the event of a nose-down landing, astronauts could right the spacecraft by inflating the bags using two air compressors located in the aft (blunt) end of the spacecraft.

Apollo 11 Flotation Bags and Flotation Collar
Apollo 11 Flotation Bags and Flotation Collar fitted to Boilerplate #1102A, National Air & Space Museum

The three flotation bags attached to this command module trainer are the actual bags used on Apollo 11 at the end of its historic lunar landing mission on July 24, 1969. The astronauts deployed them after the command module settled nose down, enabling the spacecraft to right itself about six and a half minutes after splashdown.

Apollo 11 Flotation Bag
Apollo 11 Flotation Bag, National Air & Space Museum

The flotation collar attached to the command module trainer is also the actual unit deployed during the recovery of Apollo 11. Navy swimmers attached and inflated the custom-made flotation collar around the command module to stabilize it. To the flotation collar they fastened a large, seven-person raft. The three astronauts emerged from the spacecraft, climbed onto the raft and donned special Biological Isolation Garments in preparation for their transfer to a quarantine facility on the Hornet.

Apollo 11 crew in quarantine. President Richard M. Nixon was in the central Pacific recovery area to welcome the Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.
Apollo 11 crew in quarantine. President Richard M. Nixon was in the central Pacific recovery area to welcome the Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

The command module trainer on display at National Air & Space Museum (Boilerplate #1102A) was built by NASA as one of several “boilerplate” Apollo command modules that were used for testing and to train astronauts and other mission crew members. This one is made of aluminium with a fibreglass outer shell and has an actual command module hatch. It was used by Apollo astronauts, including the crew of Apollo 11, to practice routine and emergency exits. The interior was later fitted with actual or mockup components to simulate the Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft and the five-person rescue vehicle planned for use if an emergency developed during the Skylab program.

The actual Apollo 11 Command Module is also on display at the National Air & Space Museum.

Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia
Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, National Air & Space Museum

Following splashdown, Michael Collins crawled back into the Command Module and wrote this short note on one of the equipment bay panels. It reads: Spacecraft 107, alias Apollo 11, alias ‘Columbia.’ The Best Ship to Come Down the Line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP

Following splashdown, Michael Collins crawled back into the Command Module and wrote this short note on one of the equipment bay panels.
Following splashdown, Michael Collins crawled back into the Command Module and wrote this short note on one of the equipment bay panels.

To date, the Saturn V remains the only launch vehicle able to lift spacecraft large enough to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to fly three Apollo astronauts to the moon and back, the Saturn V made its first unmanned test flight in 1967. A total of 15 flight-capable vehicles were built, but only 13 were flown. An additional three vehicles were built for ground testing purposes. A total of 24 astronauts were launched to the Moon, three of them twice, in the four years spanning December 1968 through December 1972.

1:48 Scale Model of Saturn V Launch Vehicle
1:48 Scale Model of Saturn V Launch Vehicle, National Air & Space Museum

This model shows the location of the Saturn V rocket’s components, including the instrument unit – the black band between the Saturn’s third stage (the S-IVB) and its payload. For missions to the Moon, the payload consisted (from the instrument unit up) of the lunar module, encased within a protective conical covering; the service module and the command module. At the top was the launch escape system, used only in emergency and jettisoned once the rocket has ascended safely off the launch pad.

The instrument unit guided the three-stage rocket from launch, to Earth orbit and finally to the transfer from Earth orbit to lunar trajectory. Once the astronauts were headed toward the Moon, the Apollo guidance computer in the command module took over guidance and navigation functions.

Vehicle Assembly Building
Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Centre

The Vehicle Assembly Building, at Kennedy Space Centre, was completed in 1966 to allow for the vertical assembly of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program. 14 Saturn V rockets were processed for the Apollo Program and the Skylab space station in the VAB.

The Apollo 11 rocket towers over the Kennedy Space Center’s crawlerway during the May 20, 1969 rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A. The Saturn V launched astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on the first lunar landing mission two months later Credits: NASA
The Apollo 11 rocket towers over the Kennedy Space Center’s crawlerway during the May 20, 1969 rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A. NASA Photograph
View towards the historic launch complex 39A where the Apollo and space shuttle missions began
View towards the historic launch complex 39A where the Apollo and space shuttle missions began
Walking in the footsteps of Apollo 11
Walking in the footsteps of Apollo 11

Little Puffles and Honey walked in the footsteps of the astronauts that went to the Moon. On July 16, 1969, more than 30 stories above the launch pad of the huge Saturn V rocket, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin walked across this very service arm, stretching from the launch umbilical tower to the Command Module of Apollo 11.

Out of This World

At the end of the walkway was the ‘White Room’, the last stop for astronauts before lift-off. Here, the White Room Crew made a final check of spacesuits and assisted the astronauts into their flight positions. They hooked them up to essential communications and life support systems, and sealed the hatch.

Apollo Command Module Model with the 'White Room' hugging it
Apollo Command Module Model with the ‘White Room’ hugging it
Apollo Command Module model at the end of the walkway
Apollo Command Module model at the end of the walkway

Check out these cool photos of the Moon from the Apollo program.

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