Apollo 11: This past week marked the 50th anniversary. Doctor Aviation will post a daily blog recounting each day of the voyage. July 24 marks Day 9, the eight day after the launch.
The Morning Hours
This was the biggest day since the landing on the moon. The astronauts would return to the earth. Recalling John Kennedy’s challenge, the mission was to send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth.
The Russians returned their cosmonauts to earth on land. NASA used the ocean to catch the astronauts. At 6:47am, the astronauts awoke to prepare for splashdown. The Pacific Ocean was the target.
Recall the three parts of the Apollo spacecraft. The Lunar Module was left in orbit over the moon. The Command and Service Modules were still attached. The astronauts lived and worked in the Command Module, the Service Module “carried the equipment”. Now that the astronauts were about to return, the equipment was no longer needed. The Command and Service modules were separated at 12:21pm.
The Command Module would drop down through the earth’s atmosphere. The friction caused by the metal capsule racing through the atmosphere resulted in extreme heat. The most vulnerable time for the astronauts was a period of intense heat and, due to atmospheric conditions, no radio contact with Mission Control.
At 12:35pm, the Command Module re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. Down she plunged toward the Pacific. The target was roughly 800 miles southwest of Hawaii. The USS Hornet waited in the vicinity to pick up the astronauts. Millions, including my neighbors and me watched on television.
Soon a capsule, suspended by a red and white parachute appeared in the Pacific sky. The astronauts splashed down at 12:51pm.
As the capsule bobbed in the ocean, Navy frogmen made their way to the capsule. At 1:20pm, a frogman was perched on the bobbing craft, the hatch opened. The frogman handed the astronauts isolation suits.
There was a fear that the astronauts may return with unknown, yet dangerous germs, from either the lunar surface or multiple days in the spacecraft. The isolation suits were designed to protect those around the astronauts from such germs, should they exist. For further protection, the astronauts were sprayed with disinfectant as they emerged from the spacecraft at 1:28pm.
A helicopter lifts the astronauts from the craft and flies them to the USS Hornet. Sailors line the deck to catch a glimpse of the now famous three. The helicopter lands at 1:57pm and is taken to the hangar deck. The astronauts emerge from the helicopter with a wave and are shuttled immediately to a mobile quarantine trailer where they will spend the next three days. Again, this was to protect against possible contamination.
President Richard Nixon is onboard. He waves at the astronauts through the window of the trailer at 3:00pm. The then says over an intercom, “”This is the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation…. As a result of what you have done, the world’s never been closer together …. We can reach for the stars just as you have reached so far for the stars.”
Meanwhile, the Command Module is plucked from the ocean and arrives on the Hornet. The CM, The Columbia, traveled 952,700 miles over the nine days. It is nearly 4:00pm.
The total mission time was 195 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds. The event is nearly unparalled in the worldwide attention and happiness that it brought. It was truly a unifying event. Although, the USSR was quite sad that the US beat them to the prize. Most in the world rejoiced at the achievement.
It was the culmination of nearly a decade of effort. To send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth. It required millions of dollars, much effort and several lives (especially Grissom, White and Chaffee) along the way. Great scientific advancement was achieved (thinks of the pocket calculator’s that come out of the project as one example). It was certainly one of America’s finest hours.
Look for a future blog to chronicle the lives of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins after Apollo 11. See the footnote below on further resources to learn about the mission.
I leave you with Neil Armstrong’s words from fifty years ago, “This is one small step for a man…one giant leap for mankind”.
The NASA site upon which I drew most of the information for Doctor Aviation’s daily blogs:
Excellent article on the launch