Apollo 11’s journey to the moon, annotated
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You’re looking at one of the most incredible
moments in human history. That’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, walking
on the moon. Okay, maybe you’ve seen this clip before,
but think about that for a second: They’re on the moon. A celestial object nearly 240,000 miles into
outer space. That distance is like flying all the way around
the Earth 9 1/2 times. Millions of people around the world watched
on July 16, 1969, as Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins
launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida, and disappeared into the sky. It was the climax of years of preparation
and research, and the pinnacle moment of the so-called “Space Race” between the United
States and Soviet Union, a years-long rivalry to compete for dominance in space exploration. For the eight days following the launch, the
world awaited the return of the would-be heroes. So what actually happened between here and here? So let’s start with the components of the
ship that were discarded one by one until this became this. Here’s the rocket that sent the astronauts
into space: the Saturn V. The three stages of the Saturn V each played
a different role in launching Apollo on a path to the moon — we’ll get to that later. On top of the rocket is the actual Apollo
spacecraft. It’s made up of three parts too. There’s the lunar module, the component
that would eventually land on the lunar surface, the service module, which had propulsion systems
for course corrections and entering and escaping orbit, and the command module, where our three
heroes were for most of the mission. And last but not least, this is the launch
escape system, which was designed to pull the command module away from the rocket if
something went wrong during launch. Together, all these pieces made up the Saturn
V rocket and Apollo 11 spacecraft. But it’s the way they came apart that made
the moon landing happen. The Saturn V’s first stage launched Apollo,
carrying the spacecraft 42 miles above the Earth and reaching a speed of about 6,000
miles per hour. The first stage then detached, and once the
Saturn V’s second stage kicked in, the now needless launch escape system jettisoned too. The second stage propelled the spacecraft
even farther and faster into space, and after it detached, the third stage of the rocket
fired briefly to knock Apollo into a parking orbit, 103 miles above the Earth’s surface. Here, final checks were made, and the Saturn
V fired again to set Apollo on course to the moon, in a move called the “translunar injection.” Once the spacecraft propelled away from Earth,
the Saturn V’s job was done. Now the astronauts needed to pull off a mid-flight
maneuver to reconfigure the ship so the crew could access the lunar module, which had been
stored in a protective compartment during launch. To do this, the command and service modules
detached together and flipped 180 degrees, docking with the lunar module and extracting
it. In the process, they ditched the third, now-useless,
stage of the Saturn rocket. This whole high-stakes launch process only
took about 3 1/2 hours and this — the completed Apollo spacecraft — was the end result. For the next three days, Apollo coasted through
space. Until it finally reached its target and was
pulled into orbit by the moon’s gravity. This is where the crew split up. Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to the lunar
module, named Eagle, and slowly descended toward the surface. While Collins continued to circle the moon
in the command module, called Columbia. Now here comes another tricky part: landing
on the moon. To make this historic moment happen, Eagle
turned and used its engine to slow its momentum and ultimately touch down on the lunar surface. “The Eagle has landed.” The moonwalk was broadcast live on television,
immortalizing Neil Armstrong’s words here: “That’s one small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind.” “I think that was Neil’s quote I didn’t
understand.” “‘One small step for man,’ but I didn’t
get the second phrase …” After about 21 1/2 hours on the moon, Eagle
performed the first launch from a celestial body that wasn’t Earth, leaving its landing
gear behind and timing its ascent with Columbia’s path in lunar orbit to rejoin the spacecraft. Once Armstrong and Aldrin transferred back
into the command module, the lunar module was no longer needed. Just like before, Apollo needed to break out
of orbit. This maneuver is called the transearth injection,
and began the 2 1/2 day journey home. Upon approaching its entry point into Earth’s
atmosphere and no longer needing its propulsion engines, Apollo jettisoned the service module
and prepared for reentry, protected by the now-exposed heat shield on the bottom of the
command module. “Apollo blazes across the heavens, coming
back to Earth at 25,000 miles per hour.” Parachutes deployed, and Columbia splashed
down safely into the Pacific Ocean. And what was once a 3,000-ton behemoth of
rocket, fuel, and freight was reduced to this. A small command module floating in the ocean,
carrying three astronauts and rock samples collected from the surface of the moon.

6 thoughts on “Apollo 11’s journey to the moon, annotated

  1. For more space-inspired stories check out these Vox videos:
    🚀 Astronauts left poop on the moon. We should go get it. https://youtu.be/VL18F8oHMrU
    🚀 Astronaut ice cream is a lie https://youtu.be/zpkUjrC3-Ds
    🚀 The font that escaped the Nazis and landed on the moon https://youtu.be/SaX_PwxSh5M

  2. People only know Armstrong, but no body talks about the other two. They haven't done anything less than what Armstrong did, except the last step.

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