Astronomy

A brief History of the Apollo Lunar Missions



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The Apollo program led to the greatest achievement of mankind to date. To visit another world and return back safely home. It was an unprecedented endeavor that besides its historical significance offered great technological innovations, inspiration, and vision. Most of all, the program proved that humanity is able to achieve the impossible. Although, the Apollo program was conceived in the 50’s, America committed to landing on the moon under the presidency of JFK after its historic statement “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” It was a major risk, since by that time America had only send one man in space. This achievement will be remembered for centuries and this article will present a brief history of the Apollo lunar missions.

Apollo 1 to 10.

These missions functioned as tests of crew, procedures, and equipment. Either manned, or unmanned they were vital in determining, if landing on the moon was a feasible goal. Unfortunately, the accident of Apollo 1 caused the deaths of V. Grissom, R. Chaffee, and E. White II.

Apollo 11.

This historic mission will never be forgotten. The spacecraft was launched on 16-7-1969. It landed on the Moon (Sea of Tranquility) on 20-7-1969 and Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on another world. The world stood still and listened to Armstrong’s words “That’s one small step for men; one giant leap for mankind”. The success of Apollo 11 paved the way for the next missions.

Apollo 11 achievements: First lunar landing, first step on the Moon, first lunar lift off, first samples from another planetary body,

Apollo 11 crew.

Neil Armstrong, Commander
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot.
Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot.

Apollo 12.

Apollo 12 took off on November 14, 1969. Seconds after lift off, the spacecraft was struck by two lightings, which caused a power failure and the crew had to switch to backup systems. 5 days later, they landed on the Oceans of Storms. The crew performed two moonwalks EVA’s, took photographs and samples and examined the Surveyor 3 spacecraft.

Apollo 12 achievements: Placed a lunar surface experiments package, collected 34.5kgs of samples, recovered parts from another spacecraft, caused the first artificial Moon earthquake by crashing the Lunar Module intentionally.

Apollo 12 crew.

Charles Conrad Jr., Commander.
Richard Gordon, Command Module Pilot.
Alan Bean, Lunar Module Pilot.

Apollo 13.

Although it failed to achieve its primary goal, this famous mission proved the quality of the program’s personnel (flight and ground crews). The serious failures that the spacecraft faced could easily led to the loss of the astronauts. But the training, cooperation, and ingenuity of NASA’s manpower brought them home. There was an explosion in an oxygen tank and the crew used the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat”. The lunar landing was cancelled and the astronauts returned safely to Earth on 17-4-1970.

Apollo 13 crew.

James Lovell, Commander.
John Swigert, Command Module Pilot.
Fred Haise, Lunar Module Pilot.

Apollo 14.

Launched on January 31, 1971 this mission led to the Moon the first American in space, Alan Shepard Jr. The crew landed at the Fra Mauro crater, which was the landing site of Apollo 13. Apollo 14 offered one of the most famous moments of the Moon exploration; at the end of the last EVA, Shepard hit two golf balls.

Apollo 14 achievements: first color images of the Moon, first materials experiments in space, two EVA’s, acquired 42.3kg  of samples.

Apollo 14 crew.

Alan Shepard Jr., Commander.
Stuart Roosa, Command Module Pilot.
Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot.

Apollo 15, 16, and 17.

The last three missions on the Moon were very successful, but the press and the public started to lose interest and considered a flight to the Moon as routine. As a result, there were cuts in NASA’s budget, which led to the cancellation of Apollo 18, 19, and 20. NASA chose to redirect resources to the Space Shuttle program and earth orbit missions.

Apollo 15, 16, and 17 achievements: extended lunar landings and EVA’s, use of lunar rovers, landing in lunar highlands, deep space EVA’s, the first scientist on the Moon.

This brief history of the Apollo lunar missions offers just a glimpse of their significance and the magnitude of this great endeavor. Unfortunately, 4 decades later humanity still has not returned to the Moon. Lets all hope that mankind will remember its exploration past and choose to fulfill its destiny of discovering and living in other worlds.

Apollo program facts.

Budget: 25 billion (170 billion adjusted)
Manpower: 400 000
Support: 20 000 industrial companies and universities
Launch vehicles: Little Joe II, Saturn I, IB, and V
Missions: 12 manned, 22 unmanned, 2 pad abort tests
Acquired material: 381.7 kg
Timeline: 1961 to 1975

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