In the early 1960’s the USA and the Soviet Union were locked in a race to see which country would get a man on the moon first. During a speech to Congress on May 25th 1961, President Kennedy expressed a concern that the United States was falling behind in this ‘Space Race,’ and challenged America to get a man on the moon before the end of 1969.
It took until July 16th 1969 for Apollo 11 to be launched from the Kennedy Space Centre, with a three man crew of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin on board. On July 20th, Commander Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, as he spoke the historic words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
To walk on the moon’s surface, the astronauts needed to wear a space suit with a back mounted, portable life support system which controlled the oxygen, temperature and pressure inside the suit. Not only did the suits help the astronauts to breath properly, but they kept them grounded onto the surface on the moon. Over a period of two and a half hours on the moon’s surface, the crew performed experiments and collected soil and rock samples to return to Earth.
Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon’s surface was captured by a camera attached to the Lunar Module, which was known as ‘Eagle.’ Eagle was made from two parts, the descent and the ascent. It was the descent part of Eagle that provided the engine used to land on the moon. When it was time to leave the moon again, the ascent part of Eagle carried the crew back to the Command Service Module, which was known as ‘Columbia.’
Columbia was the crew’s control centre during the mission. It was also the re-entry vehicle for returning back to Earth. After Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on 24th July, parachutes opened to lower the module into the Pacific Ocean. The crew were rescued from the sea by a helicopter and taken to the recovery ship, the USS Hornet.
July 20th 1969 will forever be remembered as the day that mankind first set foot upon the moon.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.