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Apollo 11 for Kids

With the sad passing of Neil Armstrong last month, we thought it would be nice to take a look at the famous Apollo 11 mission. But because you can hop onto Wikipedia for the full rundown, we’re going for more of an overview. We’re thinking the kind of depth that’ll allow kids to copy and paste for their homework. That’s right, kids, feel free to plagiarise, but on one condition… you read it all first. Learn something and try to appreciate just what a feat it was.


By 1961 America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union was nearing its height and President John F. Kennedy was becoming increasingly concerned that the USA was falling behind their foe in technology and prestige. So in May that year, JFK gave a speech before his country’s Congress in which outlined America’s goal of, “… landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade. Eight years later and six years after his assassination, JFK’s ambition was realised when, on July 21st 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon…

The Apollo 11 Crew

The Apollo 11 crew was made up of three guys. Neil Armstrong (left) was the Commander, Michael Collins (centre) was the Command Module Pilot and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jr (right) was the Lunar Module Pilot. What this meant was that Armstrong was in overall command and piloted the lunar module down to the moon.

Aldrin went with him and basically acted as his navigator, while Collins remained in the main command module. What’s also quite interesting is that the back-up crew included James Lovell Jr and Fred Haise Jr, both of whom were astronauts on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Launched in 1970, an onboard explosion left their craft crippled, but through determination and real ingenuity, it was able to safely return to Earth.

The Launch

On July 16th 1969, a Saturn V (that’s five) space rocket launched Apollo 11 at 1:32 in the afternoon. It entered orbit 12 minutes later and was pushed into its trajectory towards the moon at 4:22pm.

About 30 minutes after that, the command and service modules completed their separation from Saturn V and docked with the lunar module. At this point, the new-look spacecraft continued on its course for the Moon. At 5:21pm on July 19th, Apollo 11 entered the Moon’s orbit. They did a further 30 orbits, in which they identified their planned landing area in the southern Sea of Tranquility.

The Descent

On July 20th, the lunar module – named Eagle – separated from the command module, Columbia, from where Collins was able to visually confirm that there was no damage to Eagle.

However, as Armstrong and Aldrin neared the Moon, they realised they were passing landmarks on the Moon's surface four seconds earlier than intended. It later transpired that this was due to incorrect computer readings, but happily the only consequence of this was that the two men couldn't land where intended.

The Moon Landing

At 8:17 on the evening of July 20th, Armstrong landed Apollo 11 on the Moon with only 25 seconds of fuel left! “Shutdown,” he said, before continuing, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Back on Earth, Charles Duke at Mission Control replied, “Roger, Twan… Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Two and a half hours later, as the pair prepared to walk on the moon, Aldrin commented, “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

The Moon Walk (not like Michael Jackson)

At 2:39 in the morning of Monday July 21st, Neil Armstrong opened Eagle’s hatch. At 2:51 he descended the ladder’s nine rungs onto the Moon’s powder-like surface. As he stepped off Eagle’s footpad he said one of the most famous lines in history, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” In doing so, he became the first man to ever set foot on the Moon.

The second man, Buzz Aldrin, would soon join him. To walk on the Moon’s surface, both men had to wear space suits mounted with a Portable Life Support System (PLSS) backpack. This controlled the oxygen, temperature and pressure inside the suit. The PLSS tended to cause the astronauts to tip backwards, yet neither man had a problem staying upright, with Armstrong commenting, “It’s absolutely no trouble to walk around.”

This photo of Buzz Aldrin was taken by Neil Armstrong, whose reflection you can see in Aldrin’s visor. While on the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin planted a US flag and took a phone call from President Richard Nixon in the White House. They also took loads of photos and gathered plenty of dust and rock samples to take back for analysis.

In fact, they would end up taking over 22kg of lunar surface material back with them! As well as the flag, they left behind scientific instruments, an Apollo 1 mission patch and a plaque with the inscription, ‘Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind’.

They also left a bag containing a gold olive branch and a silicon message disc, which included goodwill statements from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, as well as messages from the leaders of 73 countries around the world.

Lunar Ascent

After two and a half hours on the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the Eagle. Having pressurised their cabin and sorted out their equipment, the two men settled down for approximately seven hours of rest.

Afterwards, at 5:54pm, the Eagle lifted off to rejoin Collins aboard the Columbia. On their way up, Aldrin noticed the Eagle’s engine exhaust blow over the flag. D’oh!

Returning to Earth

On July 24th, the three astronauts returned to Earth aboard the command module Columbia. They splashed down hard into the Pacific Ocean at 4:51pm, 1,440 miles east of Wake Island and just 13 miles from the recovery ship, USS Hornet.

Having initially landed upside down, the module was righted within ten minutes thanks flotation bags released by the crew. A short while later, Armstrong reported, “Everything’s okay. Our checklist is complete. Awaiting swimmers.” Although the chances of bringing back pathogens were considered remote, the astronauts were still subjected to various decontamination and isolation measures.

These included having to wear special isolation suits while being retrieved from the Pacific, being wiped down with an anti-bacterial solution and remaining in quarantine for 21 days until August 10th.

Celebrations On August 13th, three days after leaving quarantine, the astronauts rode in parades in their honour in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. A state dinner was also held to celebrate the accomplishment. After that, the three men embarked on a 45-day ‘Giant Leap’ tour, in which they visited 25 other countries, meeting with prominent leaders including Queen Elizabeth II.

What's more, you can even own an acre of the Moon with a personal Lunar Deed. Granted, it might be a while before you can build on it, but it's still rather cool!