Astronaut on moon
Apollo 11 on the moon

On July 20th 1969, at 8:18pm, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was the first manned spacecraft to do so. Captain Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon.

Previous Space Flights

Space flight was still a new idea: it was only 1919 that the technology to send a rocket into space was developed. The first space rocket was a German one in 1944. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961.

The ‘Space Race’

The Space Race was a result of the Cold War between the USSR and the USA. The Cold War was a battle for power between the capitalist ideas of the West, and the communist ideas of the East.

The USSR managed the first satellite, man in space, and woman in space. However, the USA soon caught up.

On July 13th, before the Americans reached the moon, the USSR had an un-manned craft in the lunar orbit. However, it crashed on the moon.

America’s landing on the moon effectively finished the Space Race.

Kennedy Promises the Moon

apollo 11 logo
The Apollo 11 badge

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy promised that America would send a man to the moon (and safely return him). He famously said:

‘We choose to go to the moon, we choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’

In time people have changed the quote to a single statement: ‘We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

The Mission

Apollo 11 crew
The Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 11 had 3 astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

On July 16th, helped by the Saturn V rocket, Apollo 11 took off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Before landing all three astronauts spoke. They all said the mission was not 3 men, but of the many who had made the technology and idea possible.

While Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, Michael Collins remained in Apollo 11. He did not get to walk on the moon.

On July 24th the craft returned to Earth, successfully landing in the Pacific Ocean.

The astronauts were put in quarantine until August 10th (at that time there was no idea whether the moon was safe for humans) and then released. On August 13th they were given parades in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Over the next 45 days, the astronauts visited 25 different countries.

Television Audience and Famous Lines

apollo 11 footage
Live video footage of the moon landing

It is estimated 530 million people watched the lunar landing. In a time of limited television, this was a huge amount.

The moon landing made two famous quotes:

‘The Eagle has landed.’

‘This is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.’

‘The Eagle has landed’ were not actually the first words spoken from the moon – those were technical words.

Armstrong claims he made a mistake when saying his famous ‘small step’ line.

Conspiracy Theories

Moon map
Apollo 11’s landing site

There are books based on timelines that suggest Aldrin, not Armstrong, was the first man on the moon.

Some of the evidence given to support the theories that the 1969 landing did not took place:
– Who filmed Armstrong stepping onto the moon? (this is easily discounted – the lunar module was already on the moon).
– The photographs are too good.
– There are no stars in the photographs.
– Astronauts appear on top of ‘crosshairs’; the crosshairs should appear on top of the astronauts.
– The shadows do not appear to be in line with the sun.
– There appear to be ‘hotspots’, areas in which a spotlight is shining.
– Backgrounds appear to be the same in photos taken miles apart.
– One person in Australia said she saw a Coca-Cola bottle roll across the corner of the live footage.
The Moon Falls Out of Fashion

Apollo 11 was the beginning of a series of lunar landings – before the end of 1972, 6 missions had been to the moon.

The last of these was Apollo 17. Since then, however, no manned spacecraft has been to the moon.


Unsurprisingly, the 3 astronauts have been given huge honours:

in 2009 all 3 astronauts were given the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award an American civilian can be given.

Other Notes

Apollo 10 had nicknamed its crafts ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Snoopy’ after characters in the Peanuts comic strip. For Apollo 11 it was decided the names should be less ‘flippant’. They chose ‘Columbia’ for the command module (which didn’t land on the moon, but housed the astronauts there and back), and ‘Eagle’ for the landing lunar module.

Since nobody had ever walked on the moon before, Armstrong and Aldrin tried different styles of walking. They found ‘loping’ the easiest, although ‘bunny hopping’ also worked.

Although Collins did not get to walk on the moon, he did design the famous logo of an eagle with an olive branch (although the branch was moved from its mouth to its tallons, and the astronauts names were removed because the landing ‘was for everybody’).

A hammer was brought to dislodge moon rock, but the only time it was used was to fix something on the craft.

Armstrong accidentally broke a circuit breaker (or Aldwin – ignition stick?) when re-boarding. It was briefly thought this would stop the craft lifting off the moon, but a pen did the job. It is one of several examples of space craft using other items to fix problems.

President Nixon planned to make a long phone call with the astronauts. However, he was persuaded to make it short so it would remain Kennedy’s legacy.

The American flag the astronauts planted on the moon fell over when the craft took off. All moon landings afterwards put the flag at least 30m from the craft.

The flag on the moon is now white. Sunlight has removed all the colour.

apollo 11 footprint
Buzz Aldrin’s footprint in the lunar soil