50 years of Apollo 11 travel, a giant leap into the unknown



The journey of Apollo 11 to the Moon had gone according to the plan (Representative Image)

Washington:

The first four days of Apollo 11's trip to the Moon had been done according to plan, but only twenty minutes before landing, the atmosphere tensed when the crew encountered a series of problems.

It was July 20, 1969 and, as the world followed the progress of the ship, it briefly lost radio contact with the control of the mission in Houston.

Then, when the lunar module Eagle was in the middle of its descent, piloted by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and the commander of the mission Neil Armstrong, an alarm bell began to sound.

Eagle had separated two hours before the main part of the ship, the command module, Columbia, where the third member of the crew Michael Collins remained in orbit.

It was a moment of anxiety for Armstrong, a brilliant test pilot and aeronautical engineer, but a man of few words.

"Give us a reading about the Alarm Program 1202", he tells the control of the mission. They are told to keep going. Houston realizes that the on-board computer is experiencing an overflow, but all systems are functional.

Below them, the craters of the Moon are advancing rapidly. Too fast, Armstrong realizes: at this rate, they will pbad over the landing site several miles.

Switch to manual control and start exploring a new landing site from your hatch. But there are problems to find the perfect place, and it will be difficult.

"Pretty rocky area," he tells Aldrin.

Aldrin continues telling him the computer's speed and altitude readings. "Going down very well," he says.

"I'll be right about that crater," Armstrong replies.

Meanwhile, the fuel is running out quickly.

Houston continues to announce the number of seconds remaining for the "Bingo Fuel Call", the point at which Eagle will have 20 seconds left to land or abort the mission.

Now there are 30 seconds left for bingo.

Armstrong, gathering all his experience, keeps silent while concentrating.

The module stops on the ground. "Contact light", says Aldrin, which means that one of the sensors on the foot of the leg has touched down. The engines are off.

"Houston, the base of tranquility here, the Eagle has landed," Armstrong announces.

"We copy you on the floor, you have a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we're breathing again, thank you very much," replies Charlie Duke, the CapCom communicator or capsule on the floor.

Nazi Rocket
History records that the number of people who worked in the Apollo program was 400,000. But two figures stand out from the rest for their contributions.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy invited his Vice President Lyndon Johnson to beat the Soviets in space.

"We are in a strategic space race with the Russians, and we are losing," Kennedy wrote in a magazine the previous year. "If a man orbits the Earth this year, his name will be Ivan."

Johnson approaches the sponsor of the NASA space program: Wernher von Braun.

The former card-carrying Nazi was the inventor of the V-2 rockets that rained down on the destruction of London in World War II.

Towards the end of the war, it was handed over to the Americans, who brought it along with a hundred of its best engineers to Alabama, as part of the secret "Operation Paperclip."

Von Braun told Johnson that while EE. UU It was way behind, could possibly beat the Russians when it came to putting men on the Moon, if they immediately started working on a giant rocket.

Kennedy would address Congress later that year, and vowed to "land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth" by the end of the decade.

Eight years later, Richard Nixon was president when the goal was achieved.

In case of a tragedy, he had prepared the following comments: "Fate ordered that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace remain on the Moon to rest in peace."

But the extraordinary national efforts paid off.

Everything happened quickly, thanks to a blank check for the mission of the Congress. Between October 1968 and May 1969, four Apollo preparatory missions were launched. Armstrong was elected in December 1968 to command the eleventh.

Months after the launch, Armstrong told Aldrin he was pulling range and would be the first to set foot on the lunar surface.

"I kept my silence for several more days, fighting all the time not to be angry with Neil," Aldrin later recalled in her memoirs.

"After all, he was the commander and, as such, the boss."

The giant jump
When the monstrous rocket designed by von Braun was launched with the Apollo 11 capsule at its summit on Wednesday, July 16, 1969, a million people flocked to the beach in front of Cape Canaveral to watch.

But many had doubts that they would land on the Moon on the first attempt. Armstrong relied on 1999: "My intuition was that we had a 90 percent chance, or better, to get back safely, and a 50 percent chance of making a successful landing."

For those in America, the final descent would take place on Sunday night.

In Europe, it was already night, but all were glued to their TVs, although they could only listen to radio communications until Armstrong installed his camera in black and white before his first step.

His grandmother had advised him not to do it if he felt danger; I had accepted, according to the book "Rocket Men" by Craig Nelson.

As he went down to the bottom of the stairs, he noticed that Eagle's legs had sunk into the ground only an inch or two, and the surface looked like very fine grain. "It's almost like a powder," he recalled.

Then on the radio: "It's okay, I'm going to get off the LM now." A pause, and then the immortal words: "That is a small step for man, a great leap for humanity."

According to Armstrong, the line was not written. "I thought about it after landing," he would say in an oral history recorded by NASA in 2001.

One problem: without the indefinite article ("a man"), it was not grammatically correct. Armstrong said he wanted to say it, but agreed that it was inaudible.

What does the Moon look like up close?

Its color varies with the angle of the Sun: from brown to gray and black as coal. And the lowest severity level gets used to.

"I started running a bit, and I felt like I was moving in slow motion on a lazy road, often with my two feet floating in the air," Aldrin wrote in a book in 2009.

In the course of two and a half hours, Armstrong collects stacks and piles of lunar rocks and takes photographs. Aldrin installs a seismometer and two other scientific instruments.

Plant the US flag UU And they leave a lot of items that include a medal in honor of the first man in space, the Russian Yuri Gagarin.

Of the 857 black and white photos and 550 in color, only four show Armstrong. The majority are from Aldrin. "He's much more photogenic than me," he joked in 2001.

Back home
By the time they were ready to leave, the astronauts were covered in dust. In the cabin, "I smelled like wet ashes in a fireplace," Armstrong said.

Collins had been waiting in orbit for the last 22 hours.

"My secret terror during the last six months has been to leave them on the moon and return alone to Earth," he wrote later.

"If they can not get out of the surface, or collide with it, I will not commit suicide, I will go home immediately, but I will be a man marked for life and I know it."

Fortunately, the lunar module engine worked, met with Columbia and the trio began the long journey home.

In the end, devoid of its additional modules and fuel, the capsule weighs only 12,250 pounds, or 0.2 percent of the launch weight of the fully loaded Saturn V rocket.

On July 24, it enters the atmosphere, becoming for a time a ball of fire in the sky before deploying three parachutes and falling safely in the Pacific.

The United States had sent an aircraft carrier to retrieve them. Nixon was on board.

The elite divers extract the men, who are unharmed but smelly after their trip, to transfer them by helicopter to the ship.

There, they are placed in quarantine for fear of being contaminated by extraterrestrial microorganisms.

At their first press conference, three weeks later, reporters asked the three men, now global heroes, if they would ever consider returning to the Moon.

"In the Lunar Reception Laboratory, we had very little time for meditation," Armstrong replied, without failing.

None of them would ever return to space.

After six more missions, the Apollo program ended in 1972.

It was not until Donald Trump came to power that the United States would decide to return to the Moon, under the Artemis program, named for Apollo's twin sister.

(Except for the owner, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed).

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